Last weekend Denis Bradley spoke at the annual PUP conference. These days the former Derry cleric focuses his energy on how to deal with the divisive subject of truth that has become camouflaged in the myths feeding off the North’s bitter conflict. The PUP’s long standing relationship to the UVF is considered pretty much the same as Sinn Fein’s association with the IRA. There are many in the PUP who hug previous lives well steeped in armed activity and they might not be eager to have truth extraction processes tried out on them. Nevertheless, according to the blogger Alan in Belfast, Denis Bradley ‘got a warm welcome, attentive listening, and no oohing and aahing or heckling.’

As if we needed to be reminded, Bradley outlined how prickly a nettle truth is.
The word ‘truth’ itself becomes divisive within our context. To some within the unionist family, it is a Trojan horse to trap them and expose their sins. To republicans it is the beacon that shines light into the darkest areas of our conflict and also lights up the path into the future.

Like the parson’s egg this observation is only good in parts. Likewise only true in parts, it hardly augers well for any truth recovery process. It is an accurate assessment of the unionist perspective which wants to untruthfully protect the past but loses steam when applied to republicans of the Sinn Fein type. The Catholic party has angrily covered much ground with stomping feet demanding the truth about some things. But it is clear that the party as currently constituted has more to lose than gain by a box office success called ‘The Truth’ being filmed in the debris of the conflict.

The party lacks the cuteness of the Brits who don’t make demands for truth, instead trying to roll with any punches thrown their way from the truth seekers; which allows them to avoid a lot of the charges of hypocritical cant and ensures they will not be left hoist on their own petard when awkward truths do emerge. And what happened, unlike Sinn Fein, did not take place on the watch of those currently in charge.

Commenting on Sinn Fein’s formal response to the Eames-Bradley report, Denis Bradley told the PUP gathering:

The big divide was on the legacy commission which we have proposed. Sinn Fein said they would no co-operate with because it would not be independent and would not be international. Sinn Fein proposes a truth commission set up under the auspices of the United Nations … If Sinn Fein continues to set their face so dogmatically against a legacy commission which can deliver a fair amount of truth and a fair analysis of the causes of conflict, they are in danger of depriving a lot of victims of what they need and what they deserve.

But it is not truth Sinn Fein wants but rather the power to define what should or should not constitute truth. Seriously, what international commission under the UN could arrive at the conclusion that Gerry Adams was not a senior member of the IRA - a Sinn Fein article of faith - and emerge with the necessary credibility to speak authoritatively on anything else? The recent hunger strike controversy demonstrates a Sinn Fein need to suppress alternative narratives. The treatment allegedly meted out to former IRA volunteer Gerry Bradley for having the temerity to write an unashamedly pro-IRA book on his life in the party's armed wing is another example.

Ironically, for this reason Sinn Fein will draw some consolation from the likely response of the Tories of all people towards truth recovery if they assume power in the next British general election. Denis Bradley described what he anticipated from Cameron's outfit:

If what I am hearing is correct then the Conservatives will bin the report on the past. In its place they will suggest a memorial hospital or something of that ilk, and a moving on, leaving the past behind. It won't be as crude as that but it will amount to leaving the past to be dealt with by the passage of time and the death of those who feel most affected by the troubles.

After that truth will come piecemeal and uncoordinated. Much of it will probably arrive via the memoirs of those involved; people like Gerry Bradley and George Clarke. It will be curbed and harried by the powerful, eager to drive it back into tenebrous vaults to which they alone hold the key. Where it survives it will neither have nor be dependent on the official imprimatur. There will be no reason for anybody to accept it in terms of it being a binding verdict but it will come to shape how people perceive the conflict.

Limited but as good as its likely to get.


  1. So do you feel SF want a UN commission because they know they won't get one? My understanding is they said UN or other independent body. Not sure who is meant by that Amnesty or EU.

  2. Starry Plough, it never occurred to me at anytime that Sinn Fein would want a truth commission. I could never see what was in it for them. Calls for truth by the party into this or that invite ridicule each time the party president is asked was he a member of the IRA. I think this is why the Brits don't get too annoyed when SF call for these inquiries. SF differently constituted would be a different matter and would pose a more formidable challenge in its calls for truth. As it is now, is the party likely to cooperate with any 'independent' commission that would show the role of some of its key leaders in many of the major violent events? I can't for the world of me see how it will. I think SF will breathe a sigh of relief when the Tories scuttle the good ship Truth. They are no friends of the truth either even if Cameron can not be accused of having participated in X, Y or Z. After that SF can call for truth knowing it will never come. Then it will take to trying to suppress memoirs and narratives that reveal something not conducive to the image the party wants projected.

  3. What is the title please of George Clarke's memoirs? Gerry Bradley's book is excellent.

  4. Uilodomhnaill, Border Crossing is the title. I have not read it or Bradley's. A friend has my Bradley copy. I merely suggested both as the type of memoir that is going to bring a greater degree of knowledge forward. Clarke illustrates the type of intentions some in the British state had and which I doubt they would welcome being in the public domain.

  5. Thank you. A greater degree of knowledge is my goal. At my level of understanding every bit helps. An interesting issue popped up when I first ordered Bradley's book. The first seller I went to indicated,a day or two after accepting the order,that their supplier had "...suddenly listed the book as "cancelled, not available",although it had been available in September..." Excuse my cynicism for wondering if this is an effort at suppression. Won't work, if so---it's available at Amazon.

  6. AM, I'm interested in your coments about SF being differently constituted. Could you expand on this at some stage. A piece on what you feel SF supporters need to do to help bring about the changes you would like to see in Sinn Féin.

    On a seperate point. I've asked this before, but do you have any more thoughts on trying to write a piece on what is/should be Republicansim in the current times.

  7. Starry Plough, I don't know if I will ever get a piece done about what SF should do. Time is not as free as it once was. I don't think whatever happens will change anything in terms of political fortunes. I doubt if the party in the South is strong enough to cast off its hardly radical northern leadership. If it were to it is then faced with the problem of carving out a new identity for itself. When I speak of reconstituting I am referring to the potential there for the party to push truth issues. At present it is hard to find anybody who takes the party leadership seriously on such matters. I think that sense of distrust has seeped into the electorate in the South. Letting the party leader talk about economics on television is inviting disaster. People in Dublin are much more highly politicised than people in West Belfast. They will not blindly follow.

    Same again on writing about republicanism in current times. Time prohibits any real venture into serious writing. I am supposed to be completing a chapter at the minute for an English university whereas I have barely started it. In discussing matters or republicanism today with republicans critical of SF I find myself raising the point that there is no real future for republicanism. As a philosophical project primarily concerned with overcoming partition it has failed lamentably. I don't see how it can be changed.

  8. uilodomhnaill, don't think the suppression extends that far

  9. For some context I have lived in the US for over 10 years now and as such have not followed the peace process in the way I would have followed the conflict i.e. closely and sympathetically but from the sidelines in the south (hence my earlier comment about not having been directly involved).

    Since last commenting here I have read Anthony's book - an excellent collection of well written, insightful (probably "inciteful" to the party hacks in SF) but utterly depressing articles. I say depressing because when taken together they illustrate the difficulty with truth that the SF leadership and its support structure has. It stands in stark contrast to the clarity of purpose those on the frontline of the armed conflict once appeared to have either outside in combat or within Long Kesh on the blanket or hunger strike.

    I have also begun to read Bradley's book and am bemused as to why it would cause any fuss among IRA leadership as it is very sympathetic and almost disarming (poor choice of words I know) - there is a certain humanizing that it brings to the men and women behind the balaclavas. Surely a good thing?

    The more I read, the more obvious it becomes how the truth is such a problem for the current leadership. The trouble is that with the truth you only need to say it once and it stands by itself but lies you need to repeat and repeat, massage, refine and recast in order to try and establish them as the truth.

  10. For those interested,a friend of mine ordered Bradley's book from Amazon yesterday on my recommendation and was notified that the book is now out of print and unavailable. Glad I ordered sooner!

  11. John:You have it exact--the real beauty,angst,and irony of history--the humanity of it!

  12. Although it should have been primary and obvious to me,it has only just become so... I have yet to see in print the most obvious reason to press the absolute need for a truth commission---the current rhetoric in the media which dismisses revolution as "terrorism". This became startlingly clear to me after a close reading of "The Shankill Butchers". I was reading along,using my usual standard of criminal analysis derived from Yochelson and Samenow's "Criminal Personality",when the nagging reality popped out from the background of the story of Lenny and his classically criminal crew--that the author was equating psychopaths with revolutionaries! often he interrupts his narrative to compare the IRA to the Butchers,almost directly. History will indeed have received a poor record of this era if the IRA is successfully labelled as urban crime!

  13. uilodomhnaill
    Having read both Bradleys and Clarkes books I would say yeah Bradleys book is very worthwhile reading and seems very honest as for Clarkes it reads exactly as I had thought that of a Special Branch man might write , he gave some insight but never the full picture

  14. Interested: Thank you for your input--I need to learn.