Truth And Recrimination

People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It is not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past - Milan Kundera

It seems they have made an ‘eames’ of it. Not that it had to be that way. The legacy report put together by Robin Eames and Denis Bradley might in different circumstances have served as the first stitch in a process of knitting together diverse, often irreconcilable, perspectives were it not for a brace of built-in self destruct mechanisms. Rather than knitting together, we were delivered a stitch up courtesy of a crude attempt to buy 12 000 quid's worth of acquiescence from the families of people who were the ‘lost lives’ of the North's bloody conflict.

In one of life’s strange paradoxes the sole act of reconciliation to have emerged from Eames/Bradley is that by annoying almost everyone the bulk of people now seem reconciled to scowling at the authors of the report. In a rare display of unity most in the North appeared to have been upset at the same time about the same thing. Their indecent haste to begin finger pointing could not even wait until they had stepped outside the venue where the report was being launched. In what could only be described as an undignified bout of shroud waving some took almost gleefully to screaming at each other ‘our shroud is more sacred than yours.’ Typical for the North where each seeks to out-howl the other with anguished cries of ‘my hurt is greater than yours and we stand ready to hurt you badly if you disagree.’ TV producers watching it all might yet be tempted to screen Ireland’s Top Victim in a parody of the Tyra Banks hosted US model show.

Eames/Bradley recommends a Legacy Commission of three to replace the effectively redundant PSNI Historical Enquiries Team. Whatever else the Commission might produce reconciliation hardly figures. It cannot reconcile precisely because in its remit it can only reproduce the one mechanism that bedevils and blocks any reconciliation process. Broadly speaking this amounts to a unionist belief that there is no one size fits all model. For unionists the people killed by republicans were innocent and republicans the guilty perps. For nationalists the problem with this is that it absolves the state and unionist politicians of their role in the conflict. Nationalists want equivalence based on the professed opposition to a hierarchy of victims. From a unionist point of view even if there were to be some equivalence it would be a biased equivalence evidenced by the inability of the suggested future commission to compel non state actors to release information but paradoxically to have the power to obtain such information from state bodies. This is supposedly to be redressed by eliciting from individuals, through inducements of promises of immunity from prosecution, information about cases unlikely ever to result in prosecutions to begin with. Information is to be bought with a completely worthless currency.

Ultimately it takes on the appearance of a one side bares all model. Reconciliation does not emerge from one party feeling it was shafted. Nor can it be purchased with ‘blood money.’ A deadly brace that truthfully sinks the good ship Reconciliation before it can even leave port.

The Brits as usual, courtesy of the internal solution they were able to secure in the North, have effectively narrated a neat little fiction. They have managed to stand back, waiting to consider the recommendations made for two warring tribes to whom their stance was neutral over the years of conflict.

The entire process from the British perspective was designed to project an image of a religious divide. That was the unmistakable message sent out. The report was even prefaced with a quote from a Christian writer. A cleric from the Protestant tradition and a former cleric from its Catholic counterpart and hey presto the model of two sides involved in a sectarian squabble took shape. The Brits themselves cleverly thought not to send one of their own military chaplains to take part despite having lost about 700 of their own troops not to mention hundreds more of their indigenous allies. But to send their cleric would have brought them down from their plateau of moral haughtiness to the level of the tribes.

So, the calculating old Brits, given that they had won the war, decided that they would wax magnanimous and forego victim status. Just let the tribes carry on with their sectarian squabble. Besides in the melee of the howlers shaking their fists at each other while they profess their devotion to peace all Brit culpability will be lost.

Truth is there is no real appetite in the North for truth as reconciliation. It is invariably sought for recrimination. The type of truth that is required is ‘our truth’, one that we can poke you in the eye with for the purposes of tarnishing you; hoping that you will be provoked into paroxysms of rage which we will use as evidence that you hate our hand of friendship. We want the revealed truth about what you did to us and as little truth as possible about what we did to you. When hurt is used to inflict even more wounds for the purposes of political advantage then the chasm between truth and reconciliation grows even wider.

So why do committees, commissions and interest groups persist in linking truth to reconciliation? In sectarian Belfast ‘East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.’ There is no pot of truth and reconciliation at the end of this orange and green rainbow that Britain from the splendour of its benign neutrality has projected onto the screen of our collective consciousness. That is the one truth that society sorely needs to reconcile itself to.

Fourthwrite 2009


  1. ClealD there are massive gaps between communities in the north. do you think these gaps can be bridged in any politically significant way, namely someway of breaking he sectarian pattern of voting? If so how? If not, why not?

  2. During the decommissioning process we had a similar scenario. Two clerics, one from each tribe going along as witnesses to see for themselves and convey to the rest of us that the guns were indeed put beyond use. The British in that situation also protrayed themselves as neutral, and didn't send in an army chaplin of their own. They could have. The winning army represented when the guns were being taken away from the unsuccessful insurgents. The forces of good conquering the forces of evil. Yet they didn't because they knew sooner or later someone would emerge from the woodwork to doubt them. The fact that it was another cleric in the form of Paisley was the best entertainment in the mix. Then we had the gaffe from the Redemptorist who developed a serious case of foot and mouth. War within the God squad.

    This time around, they didn't use two clerics. I think in some way you are flagging up Denis' past in a way that is uncomplementary to him. I don't know if he is a man of faith or not now, but he's certainly been around a long time within this process, and he's no fool. He must have known that they were trying to do the impossible and that in the end they'd please no body.

    The squabbles that emerged were a foregone conclusion. They emerged over decommissioning, over the early release of prisoners, over the DUP joining in Govt with SF. But imv they will die away, like the rest before them.

    It was a huge blunder to try to buy off the families, but the HET hasn't been successful and costs a fortune, perhaps they thought why not give the families something?

    Theres money for commissioners who are neither use nor ornament, infact no shortage of money for all sorts of things, maybe they just wanted to redress the balance and give the families of all victims something. No hierarchy,no intent to buy them off even though it came out looking that way, just something for their trouble?

    I think it was Brian Feeney who wrote that Eames and Bradley were just two decent men trying to do the right thing, I've yet to read anything to change my mind on that.

  3. The truth is that the Norn Irish psyche is disturbed. The only reconciliation possible is for the individual to reconcile him or herself to that truth. In my honest opinion, every single one of us is in need of professional help. We are disturbed, scarred and demented. The addition of money and materialism has produced nothing but bewilderment and depression. The "Leadership", across the board, is chasing its tail while the rest of us sit in the corner starring at the lights! Ach sure, a "United Ireland" will fix that...

  4. No need to worry anymore about past problems we all had,The Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland has announced that we will be all living happy ever after in a UNITED IRELAND by 2014,is this man really serious, is this the man we place all our trust in to govern a part of this island, has he jumped ship and joined the Raving Looney Party , what next from this British MP, so folks no need to worry about will we ever see a United Ireland , no need for truth and recrimination anymore
    PS does First Minister still believe in Santa

  5. 96cambridge, this is the type of question that demands a longer response than time permits here. But it is a question that has been around a long time. The pattern of sectarian voting will not be broken. The North is state in a sectarian society and reflects and reproduces those divisions. As has often been said sectarianism has been institutionalised not transcended since the GFA

    Sophie, wrong on this one. Nothing uncomplimentary was thrown the way of Denis. I have no disparaging feelings towards him and am in fact on good terms with him. I expressed no moral view on either man's clericalism past or present. Merely flagged it up to illustrate Brit thinking.

    Anonymous, that is some take. Must give that a bit of thought. You seem even more sceptical than I do.

    Anonymous, Conor Cruise O’Brien perhaps gave us an acronym that would best describe it – GUBU. McGuinness may as well have said Derry will put a spacecraft on Jupiter by 2014. He has become so far removed from the base that it should actually consider replacing him.

  6. Sophie, wrong on this one. Nothing uncomplimentary was thrown the way of Denis. I have no disparaging feelings towards him and am in fact on good terms with him. I expressed no moral view on either man's clericalism past or present. Merely flagged it up to illustrate Brit thinking.

    Clever clogs! :) On re-reading I stand corrected....

  7. Sophie, good trait - a willingness to pull back from a position you conclude is wrong. If only we could all do it discussion and debate would be much less heated. People would defend positions and arguments rather than egos.

  8. Have long thought what Anonymous wrote "The truth is that the Norn Irish psyche is disturbed etc" Apart from the obviously abnormal sectarian mndset as a starting point as far as I know no psychiatrist has ever investigated the detrimental effects of 50-60 years Unionist misrule on pyschological make-up of the minority nor the effects of 30 years bonbings, sectarian murders, internment, repression and so forth on individuals from both sides of the community or on communities as a whole.
    Furthermore, apart from some (inevitably unsuccessful) heroic individual efforts or attempts by small groups, there has never been any serious attempt to eradicate sectarianism through mass media campaigns, ads, TV soap operas and so on. One can only presume the status quo suits everyone. Alex

  9. Alex, stop being sensible. You will only annoy people.

  10. Thanks to whoever sent this link