We are not going to get justice. Our country could not pay the price. Too many guilty men and women involved, both paramilitary and State. God will bring the justice in that Day. But such is the nature of earthly affairs. Like Moses and divorce, a hard-hearted people cannot be ruled with perfect justice. Compromise is often required, to compensate for the sins of ourselves and others without bringing disaster on either or both.
Our two communities here bear their share of the blame for our Troubles. I know many Unionists like myself grew up in the Troubles seeing only the aggression of the other side. But we failed to see the background grievances of the Nationalists:
1. Their basic objection to having their land divided between them and the Planters (us).
2. Their objection to the discrimination they faced due to their hostility to our State. Jobs, housing, gerrymandering of electoral areas.
3. When a Unionist government tried to address some of these things, it was ridiculed as 'traitors', 'Lundies', 'selling out to the Irish Republic'.
And I for one believed those accusations. That is our side of the blame. The Nationalists were to blame for:
1. Not recognizing that two nations existed in Ireland, and both had a right to their self-determination. When the Nationalists got the 26 counties for themselves, we got the 6. Each minority ought to have supported that sharing out.
2. Their intention of subjecting us to the same discrimination in a UI that they suffered here - their goal was an Irish Catholic State, for that is what was set up in the South when they got the power. All the talk of parity of esteem for all the children of Ireland had been proved bogus.
3. The Republicans in the midst of the Nationalists were not interested in civil rights, in equality in jobs, housing, elections. Their aim was a UI or nothing.
Those competing ideas clashed physically in stone-throwing and rioting, then developed into bombing and shooting (though it must be said that the UVF murders in 1966 were a precursor of what followed).
The failure of the State to stop such violence in its tracks greatly increased the involvement of paramilitaries. And it meant they could not enforce a fair compromise on either side.
Fast forward through the blood and tears, and the futility of the war comes home to the thinkers among the paramilitaries. The IRA leadership knows they can continue for some years, but the cost will be so high that it will end in humiliating defeat. So they seek a way to save face by a negotiated settlement. The British State is up for that - indeed it almost certainly was their goal and the end to which they developed informers and assassins in the paramilitaries.
The settlement was gradually brought to birth in the Belfast Agreement. Had either side, Nationalist/Republican or Unionist/Loyalist refused to comply, I'm sure they would have been punished enough so that they did. The alternatives for each side were:
1. A continuation of the war by the IRA - which would have been met with steadily increasing shoot-to-kill ops. by the State, and enabled assassinations by the UVF and UDA.
2. A refusal by the Unionists to settle would have been met with imposed government that included a big Irish input. Violence by the Loyalists would have been met with the same treatment the Republicans would have faced.
Since the Belfast Agreement we have limped on, and at times skipped on. We are again at a critical moment for one side or the other - or even both. The Legacy issue can be easily enough dealt with - a firm hand that gives as much truth as is safe to divulge. For example, the State holds files on all incidents (I assume). Who they know was responsible; who they think was responsible; who their informants identified, etc. The State's own assassinations could also be revealed. But all of this could only come if amnesty/indemnity/pardons were applied to all cases that could be prosecuted.
The Language issue could be settled with similar status given to Ulster Scots - Not based on numbers of each community, but on the numbers of those who express a firm interest in the language. That is, on those who Actually sign up for the language, in schools and evening classes. The devolved government would have to find the money from its devolved pot. If they can sell language above hospitals to their electorate, so be it.
The Victims issue could be settled if we treated as victims everyone injured by unlawful force, be they terrorists assassinated by paramilitaries or dark State actions; State forces; or non-combatants.
Culture/Parades could be settled on a equal-insult basis: if you parade through an area where you are not wanted, then I can parade through yours. A careful examination of routes would result. Other solutions are of course possible.
⏭Ian Major grew up a heathen Protestant, was converted at 17. He lives out his Evangelical faith as a Baptist.