When Prime Minister David Cameron MP, said these words on 15 June 2010 in the House of Commons, they drew applause from many of those gathered outside the Guildhall, Londonderry. The motivation for this within the crowd, which was smaller than might have been expected, was undoubtedly mixed.
On the square in front of the building which had hosted many sessions of the lengthy and costly Saville Inquiry, relatives who had marched to the area in a well-choreographed parade displaying portraits of those who died on 30 January 1972, took to the stage.
Looking out over the crowd individuals came forward to exclaim “Innocent” as each name of those who died was read aloud. Some raised their fist to the sky.
Not many grieving and traumatised family members of the victims of conflict on our too many bloody days have had a similar opportunity. Many questions go unanswered.
The response within the wider unionist community was varied. Unionist spokespersons who had gathered on the city walls to brief the media concentrated on the cost of the Inquiry and a perceived hierarchy of victims in terms of coverage and treatment. The points carried some validity but were not in keeping with the mood of the day either in Parliament or within all sections of unionism.
It was unpalatable to hear the words of the Prime Minister and yet the illustration of justice, as yet unparelled by any other protagonists in the conflict, drew admiration and addressed a festering grievance. It was not time to circle the wagons but to commend the candour and admission of the state.
In the light of the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding the conviction of Gerry Adams, now seen to have been technically unjustified and therefore set aside, similar reactions are emerging but unionists and democrats cannot have it both ways. When a judgement is flawed for whatever reason, it has to be addressed.
These are the values for which so many gave their lives during violence inflicted on the community by those to whom such values and standards remain alien.
The latter is the faultline which runs through any organisation willing to weaponize and politicize justice where to do so is a means of achieving an outcome that violence failed to deliver.
Where the pursuit of justice is deliberately partial and selective, creating a new injustice becomes more than a possibility. This is a continuing product of Irish republican violence and politics. Like other jagged characteristics, it has not gone away.
Events point to justice as delivered by British courts as being better and greater. Ironically, it is being administered by a state to which, as beneficiaries often make clear, they offer no allegiance. Set against other actions it seems safe to assume that it serves the purpose of generating a narrative locked into the central purpose of uncompromising politics and thinking which is destructive in effect, if not intent.
With alleged unlawful actions of the state being prioritised whilst some of the loudest voices in support of this remain silent and omit distressing truths from their own histories, an inflamed chaos of rival interests and justification ensues. This reinforces a process that becomes ghettoised and promotes frozen mindsets. Locked into a hierarchical and uneven judicial process, the community struggles to get past the past. Court judgements, reassessed as justifiable, serve to harden a sense of injustice in communities feeling less favoured and of less importance.
Set alongside this is the moral imperative for the perpetrators of conflict on all sides to display atonement and share their truths beyond court cases in an inclusive way requiring all to test their actions, past and present, against measures that are robust in terms of humanity, healing and social justice.
Sinn Fein has for some years spoken of ‘A United Ireland ‘built on new relationships and new politics and an ‘Agreed and Reconciled Ireland ‘yet its attitude to dealing with past injustice and disclosure remains partitionist and exclusive, rather than inclusive. Parity of esteem is alluded to in speech but is not delivered in respect of disclosure and all victims.
“The need to be sensitive to all hurt, loss and pain and the need for an acknowledgement of all the different human experiences of conflict felt across society” as alluded to in Sinn Fein documentation encroaches on credibility when contradicted by a one-sided pursuit of justice.
Damage control and war by other means comes into mind. Like the constant changing of terminology relating to historic events, it presents as a calculated strategy in a blame game where winner takes all.
The war carried out by Provisional IRA and as justified by Sinn Fein was and remains a barrier to reconciliation and transformation towards a shared community. It is not the only such barrier but it is one, which in ignoring the sensitivities, lack of justice and hurt of victims other than republican, endures.
Judicial triumphs and the political comments which accompany them suggest that present problems are being addressed from the same self-construct and premise as before so is there any likelihood that outcomes can be different? They continue to be defined in terms that do not go beyond what is acceptable to and what can be sold to ‘our side’.
We will not build a future by continuing to do what we did in the past. The long war in all its dimensions needs to end as does the deafening silence about victims of the violence which injured and ended the lives of so many.
Sinn Fein promotes inclusion in speeches and much of its literature but in failing to encourage truth telling on its own part, it sends out a message which undermines the integrity of the words and hollows out any meaning.
In the context of our shared past and providing justice, telling the truth is where inclusion can begin.