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Image by Elle Rowan


Think about what is happening inside the Northern Ireland Office right now, and what is due to happen in New York in just a few days time.

In Belfast and London, there are decisions to be made on the responses to the legacy consultation; decisions on what next after asking questions on a proposed structure involving a new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR), an Oral History Archive and a reconciliation element.

Ten years after Eames/Bradley began their work, we are still fighting with our past; a battle over the very definition of victim, who was hurt the most, who did the most harm, whom to blame and the worth of historical investigations in terms of their potential for healing and some form of closure.

Sending a few more people to jail is not addressing the Past.

Rather, it avoids the bigger questions of causation, context, failure of politics and abuse of power – the poisonous circumstances of war.

Jail will do nothing to heal. Instead, it will do more harm.

None of this is to forget the horrors of the conflict period; but when you leave the past to politics and politicians, then you leave the arguments within that frame.

This is too small a place for such a narrow approach.

The acclaimed Irish artist Colin Davidson has no such frames; no boundaries to restrict his thinking and his craft.

From October 22nd to November 2nd, ‘Silent Testimony’ will be on show at the United Nations in New York; world attention for 18 portraits that recognise today’s hurting and, how for those touched by it, the past never goes away.

This time, the exhibition coincides with another period of remembering here; that convulsion and madness that was the killing in 1993 from Shankill to Greysteel and elsewhere and that walked this place to its very edge.

Twenty-five years is a long time and no time. For others, in their remembering, it could be 50 years.

Davidson will hang his exhibition in New York this weekend for its opening on Monday at a British/Irish event to which world ambassadors have been invited.

It means the widest window of opportunity and the most significant stage to show the suffering of this place; a continuing suffering understood and experienced in so many corners of the world.

Davidson’s paintings are not political; they are about remembering, reminding and acknowledgement, and there is a speaking and a voice in this Silent Testimony.

At the Northern Ireland Office, those thinking of what next in our legacy process should be thinking with others, including the Irish Government, on what place and part this exhibition should have in some permanent memorial here.

The 18 portraits of Silent Testimony represent a much wider suffering both here and in a world context.

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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process and contributed chapters to 'Reporting the Troubles' and 'Brexit and Northern Ireland: Bordering on Confusion'.

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