I remember my father saying to mum something along the lines of ‘he will be safe and with me’. Mum agreed I could go. He was right, at least in terms of that night. Not so much in the years that followed. It was 1969, I was 12 years and some months old, and we were heading to St Theresa’s Primary School where I was now a past pupil.
When we arrived the school was not as I had left it. Every classroom was filled with families seeking refuge, families who had just been burned out of their homes, families to whom I spent the next few hours delivering hastily gathered food, blankets and such like. I didn’t really know what was happening but I knew it was very serious. I was returned home by my father in the early hours, safe as he had promised I would be. Although I didn’t realise it at the time my childhood and the childhoods of many others ended that night.
Three years later my aunt lost her life, two years after that my father, and in another two years my cousin as well as two close friends lost their lives.
By the time of the Good Friday Agreement I had lost 40/50 friends neighbours and acquaintances. Many of my friends and neighbours had spent most of their lives in jail while literally thousands of people unknown to me personally were losing their lives, being injured, and seeing those left behind, or caring for injured (including the severely traumatised), having their lives changed forever.
I personally witnessed the immediate aftermath of many horrific events and like most males in my age group (teens upwards) in my area at that time I was frequently invited to Fort Monagh and other places for a good beating. These are facts.
It is because these are facts that I understand suffering and grief are exactly the same for every human being who suffered in these circumstances. The personal friends I lost came from every part of this society and I knew them all as nice people. ALL those left behind, ALL those still suffering physically and/or mentally should receive the greatest degree of resolution it is possible to deliver, and they should receive it as soon as possible.
Legacy is not the ‘elephant in the room’, legacy is very much recognised, its’ complex character analysed, and the measures required to address these complex needs pretty much identified. The difficulty is very much that victims have been weaponised, legacy has become the battleground. This should be stopped immediately and the complexities addressed rather than deepened.
It’s almost exactly one year to the day since I last made a submission to this website. I still hold by every word I expressed at that time. Unfortunately little has changed during the past 12 months in the public arena.
That said, it is my opinion that we are now potentially on the cusp of starting to address the complexities of legacy in a real and meaningful way through the establishment of the structures designed in the Stormont House Agreement. To realise these structures it is essential that as many people as have an opinion (not just victims) respond to the legacy consultation recently published by the Westminster Government.
My own response will reflect this:-
➢ There should be no prejudgment of outcomes because everyone who suffered was/is a human being and should be treated as such. The greatest resolution possible cannot be delivered unless we deliver to all.
➢ No door should be closed.
➢ It should be absolutely guaranteed that cross-contamination between the HIU and the ICIR will not be permitted to happen under any circumstances.
➢ No special status or amnesty should be given to any participant, legal or illegal – no statute of limitations in any form or in any other guise.
➢ My preferred option is to engage with the ICIR, not only because I think it is unlikely the HIU will deliver many prosecutions but also because I think this has the potential to hold the greatest number to account for their actions. All of those involved on a corporate basis, not just the soldier or volunteer who engaged in the action.
➢ Legacy inquests should be funded and a pension paid to the severely injured immediately and without exception.
➢ As well as the option of victims approaching the ICIR a community based system should be devised to enable properly trained and appointed persons to actively approach families and let them know they have not been forgotten by inviting them to participate and support them to do so. Not everyone has the ability or strength to go alone. In as far as possible no-one should be left behind.
➢ The proposed Mental Health Trauma Service should be funded and established in advance of SHA structure implementation to ensure the wellbeing of those impacted throughout the processes.
➢ Structures should be entirely free from political interference or influence although politicians should absolutely be held to account for their speeches and actions. Because politicians left the killing and dying largely to others does not mean they are devoid of any responsibility.
Finally I would say this to those who shout the loudest and hurl ‘dogs in the street’ type accusations – you have not achieved a high degree of progress. Because of the universally good reception to my article on this website last year I am of the opinion that a quiet approach, using language which positively challenges, has the potential to achieve results. This consultation gives everyone the opportunity to make that measured positive contribution.
I would regard myself as coming from the Republican analysis side of the fence. I personally don’t see ‘legacy’ as a means of attributing blame but rather about understanding events.. I have major criticisms regarding the British in terms of how they selectively deal with the past – and I support those groups who are trying to get information from the British.
I have also major issues with how the Republican movement has not explained the tactics and rationale of its campaign, except in the broadest terms. Individual mistakes like a bomb exploding prematurely and killing civilians can happen in any conflict but the tactics for example of shooting local security forces in front of their families – are choices – and choices that no one from the Republican side has officially explained or tried to justify.
There are also a number of killings both pre and post ceasefire that Republicans will privately admit were the work of the IRA and simply repeating that there is no ‘proof’ without offering plausible alternative explanations undermine moves to adopt an approach to legacy that might be successful.
I think that Republicans not being forthcoming on the basis of the argument about what the British have or haven’t done – is not a valid position – as long as identity of those involved in the process can remain anonymous.