Never Never Land

A great truth is a statement whose opposite may well be another great truth - Niels Bohr

For a while Truth & Reconciliation again became the buzz term with the publication of the Eames-Bradley report. While not as false sounding as 'courageous and imaginative' it is every bit as steeped in the peace process which lends artificiality to all it comes into contact with. In a way that we assume was never the objective of Eames-Bradley we can at last settle down to the knowledge that we will have neither truth nor reconciliation. We will get a bit of one, some of the other but most likely a situation where each will remain in a state of mutual antagonism. The North’s way of fusing them together is like giving two blind men motivational shoves rather than guide dogs.

Reconciliation can never grow from an expectation that the truth being insisted upon must be accepted: ‘do not challenge our truth and we will reconcile with you.’ Not much justice in that. But then why would there be? Truth and justice has now been usurped by truth and reconciliation? And as our truth is not your truth and is never likely to be your truth then the one truth is that accurate truth as distinct from exculpatory truth shall never creep into the crevices and pores of the one eyed Northern Irish moral universe. It remains hermetically sealed against truth infiltration.

A lot of truths in the above paragraph which goes to show that no matter how many truths there are they do not necessarily lead to clarity.

Truth is closer to justice than it ever is to reconciliation. Justice divides, it always does. When the perpetrator of some horrendous crime is sent down for life it may be justice but it is unlikely to lead to reconciliation. The reconciliation the perpetrator wants is one that will keep him out of prison whereas the victims, to the degree that they might want reconciliation at all, need the sentence of life imposed.

Truth and reconciliation are words that do not sit comfortably alongside one another. Despite the manifold attempts to weave them together as part of the discursive fabric of the peace process the awkward seams are still there and as badly sewn as anything on the face and neck of the monster from the old Frankenstein movies.

Reconciliation if it evolves will be just that; a process of evolution rather than the revolution envisaged by some. It will evolve rather than be created. It shall lay its own deposits layer upon layer. There will be no overnight panacea. Are people so constituted as to be able to reconcile themselves to the loss of their loved ones particularly their ‘irreplaceable children’? Jo Berry who lost her father in the Brighton bomb and Pat Magee who took her father’s life make the news because they are the exception rather than the rule of reconciliation. And they are forever accompanied by the thought that Berry is simply the re-emergence of the Stockholm Syndrome albeit in a different context and location.

When it emerged a number of years ago that one of the British gun gang that had mown down unarmed IRA volunteers in Gibraltar in 1988 was later killed, some of the families who lost loved ones at the hands of the British refused to play the game of forgiveness, rather opting to express the sentiment that he got what was coming to him. Although unable to source it, somewhere in my mind Jim Clinton figures. His wife was gunned down by Jackie McDonald’s UDA in her South Belfast home as she sat with her family. He commented in similar vein supporting those who felt no regret at the SAS killer’s passing. It all might have sounded raw in its expression but it had a particular honesty and human passion to it so lacking in the managed ersatz world of ‘oh let me feel your pain.’ Clinton may echo the sentiments of the Abuelas group, the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, in their affirmation ‘we do not forget, we do not pardon, we do not reconcile’, but he sounds all the more authentic for that. He would seem to be the rule, Berry the exception.

Just as the Argentinean experience has been described, memory is a battlefield. The Argentine, home to the worst state atrocities committed in the entire Latin American region in the 1970s and ‘80s, is instructive if only for the differences that have characterised the approach of those tackling the problem of reconciliation. The regime of Nestor Kirchner, in power and able to push things through, wanted reconciliation linked to justice, truth and memory. Carlos Menem, one of his predecessors and operating in les propitious circumstances where the military had not yet been sufficiently brought to heel, started a process premised on reconciliation emerging only as a result of oblivion.

While there is something deeply unjust about oblivion – the victims having being obliterated were now to have their memories obliterated – there have been voices raised against ‘having the country’s highest executive authority put to the service of truth, justice and human rights’ on the matter of the past and how to reconcile. For some, neither oblivion nor reconciliation offers answers. Guillermina Seri writes ‘people cannot reconcile with El Proceso’s terror.’ One woman quoted in the same Seri piece, who had been held in one of the many torture centres belonging to the Argentine military, argued that reconciliation is something deeply personal ‘not a political thing’.

Yet in Ireland we throw committees at it, forgetting the memorable quip of James Boren that nothing is impossible until handed to a committee.


  1. Anthony, do you ever feel guilt or regret about your activities as an IRA volunteer? Did you ever feel the need for reconciliation with anyone affected by your actions?

  2. Alfie, I owe you a reply from an earlier thread. Sorry but spare time is always fought for. Guilt, no. Regret yes. Not for having been in the IRA or having done time but for the waste that it turned out to be. So little achieved and so much inflicted in exchange. Nor have I felt the need to reconcile. I have shaken a lot of hands of, and made a lot of friends with, people who I once would have harmed or they would have harmed me. Is that reconciliation? I don't know. I suppose it is in a way. Something for me to think about now that you have posed the question. Will answer your earlier question later.

  3. Anthony I agree with you that reconcilliation is a personal thing but have a creeping suspicion from your last sentence that you are not in favour of committees at all. Is that the problem here? Or is it a combination of the personal being dealth with by committees that you don't like.

    Then again you don't suggest any other way of trying to achieve truth about the past nor reconcilliation. Why can't the personal be organised by a group of people set up something that helps people deal with personal tragedy and loss? For the life of me I can't see any other way of organising how people can get the resources necessary to deal with the personal with out a group of people to organise funds, resources, time and all the other stuff needed by those families who are affected.

    Maybe you are simply anti-committee because you don't see them as constructive, or democratic, but one person couldn't organise the help needed so if we don't throw committees at it what do we do?

  4. Sophie, a couple more pieces are coming up which might go some, although not all of, the way in addressing your very relevant points. Maybe them would be a better time to put your question.

  5. Thanks Anthony.

    That was a good interview you gave this evening. Very interesting.

  6. Sophie, I suppose it dealt with the issues we had been discussing on the PQ

  7. Regret yes. Not for having been in the IRA or having done time but for the waste that it turned out to be.
    You don't regret joining the IRA or being involved in armed activities?

  8. Re: Rwanda reconciliation article by Philip Gourevitch, May 4, 2009 issue of the New Yorker. I can only give the abstract link: "The Life After" since as a subscriber now the magazine installed a clever digital reader ("sponsored by Chevron") that does not allow me anymore to convert a text to a print version to send or link to-- unless you too are a subscriber! Still, knowing of your interest in the Rwandan parallels, here 'tis!

  9. Anonymous:

    'You don't regret joining the IRA or being involved in armed activities?'

    I would rather none of it had happened but I don't use the term regret to describe it. Regret emits a sense of self-pity. I am philosophical about it.

    Fionnchú, I think I may have read the piece. Thanks for the link.