Take that thought that in this peace process the highest peaks have already been scaled.
The words above were spoken by the DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in relation to the legacy issue and the continuing efforts to put a process in place.#
But this mountain that is the past is taking a long time to climb, if indeed the intention is to do just that.
In a few days time – November 17th – we will be one year on from the Fresh Start Agreement – the agreement that left legacy issues unresolved, and not for the first time.
Just, last week, Secretary of State James Brokenshire said he wouldn’t be rushed to an artificial deadline.
There has been no rushing, hurrying or dashing to any deadline on the past, rather – for the best part of a decade – the pace has been more snail-like.
Remember the Eames/Bradley Consultative Group began their work in 2007 and, in just a few weeks time, 2017 will be with us.
At a number of recent conferences to mark 15 years of the PSNI, the question of legacy raised its head time and time again.
“Work also continues on the Historical Investigations Unit and the other mechanisms for dealing with the past…It will be a huge mistake to stall progress on these proposals; a mistake that neither policing nor our society can afford,” Chief Constable George Hamilton said.
The past unresolved means that new policing will always be nearly new policing, the new beginning a nearly new beginning – new politics, nearly new politics.
A heavy weight is holding these things down – a weight many seem reluctant to lift or share.
At one of the policing conferences at Ulster University, a question was asked about what a Patten Report in 2016 might include.
An explanation of what policing actually means would be a good start. It is not just about the cops – those in uniform.
Communities have responsibilities, politicians have responsibilities – and so also do others. Take the recent fallout over the Police College at Garnerville. Was the Policing Board sleeping?
Did it not know there was a “militaristic” culture? Is there a big collective effort to get police training out of Garnerville and into the new college proposed by Patten 17 years ago?
Accountability is not a one-way street.
Patten,of course, was silent on the Past.
And, in any thinking out about what a 2016 report might include, legacy would need to be in the opening thoughts.
Policing can no longer carry the weight of the past. It will never be new when it is answering questions about the 70s, 80s, 90s or not answering those questions about the 70s, 80s and 90s.
Every consultation and negotiation on legacy has come up with something similar – investigation, information-recovery, archive and some reconciliation process.
The wheel has been invented. We just don’t know how to turn it, or else we don’t want to turn it.
So, perhaps we need a Patten-type process on the past. An outside look and proposals rather than some other effort or consultation or negotiation that depends on achieving an impossible consensus.
There is no consensus when it comes to the past. There will not be an agreed narrative and, from all sides, the best that can be expected is an edited, redacted, controlled version of events.
That truth needs to be told and, while there is investigation, there will always be reluctance to participate in a legacy process.
Across a number of issues, we now need to set realistic goals.
Take the question of paramilitary disbandment, another of the talking points at recent conferences. It is too late for that.
That type of certain, clear, definitive final curtain is not going to be achieved.
But the so-called “untouchables” can no longer be allowed to operate in plain sight. They undermine the peace – make it “dirty” to quote one observer.
A year on from the so-called Fresh Start, the past is not the only mountain yet to climb. There are others.
Are they higher or lower than those previously scaled? I suppose it depends on who is looking at them – or not looking at them.
The Past is the Present, and this is why it can no longer be stalled or held up in some search for consensus.
All of the relevant sides need to make clear what their participation and levels of cooperation will be.
Too focused on anger and payback – a radical change is needed – the legacy of the past is also the need for living well together –
Thank you, Slavka. It can be done,