Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Facing the truth?

Mon 6 March 2006, 4:51pm

THe BBC screened the second of a three part series called Facing the Truth. The last part is screened tonight. It is definately worth watching, precisely because it raises important questions about the telling of stories and the degree to which ‘reconciliation’ can actually be said to take place through such events. Jane Bell explores a number of angles in considering the effectiveness of the programme.My own brief thoughts:

- It underlines the power of simple story telling. The stories of the ‘victims’ were extremely powerful and, to an extent, had the effect of drawing a line between the relative civility of ‘now’ and the ferocious hatred of ‘then’.

- There was something arbitrary (though probably inevitable) about the mismatch of the pairings. It may be different tonight, but none of the people last night were paired off against the relatives of those they’d killed. This makes it hard to judge how real the intercourse is, or how much we can judge as viewers the ‘process’ such as it is, has been effective.

- There is little doubt that the sympathy (and most of the interest) of the viewer is immediately drawn to the ‘victims’ (an epithet one RUC man who lost his arms in one IRA squarely rejected). As such the stated motivations of the ‘killers’ came over as hollow.

- There were no unreconciled victims. And for that matter, no unreconcilable killers. Again this given the simple format and the requirements of the medium, this may not have been practical or even possible. But it is part of the real mix on the ground.

Despite the above misgivings, I will be watching again tonight. As a first step, it is important that these stories (and many other less intense experiences) of the troubles are heard. Not to hold us to the past, but to allow the maximum number of us to move into a more open and optimistic future!

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Comments (33)

  1. bo'shank says:

    Have to agree with you Mick, i had reservations about this and thought it was initially tasteless and thought what next? Victims and perpetrators on ice?

    It was done well, powerful and the stories themselves simple and moving. Has restored my faith in television as a medium for good.

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  2. Occasional Commentator says:

    Did we just see edited highlights of much longer discussions, or did we see the full discussion? How long were the actual discussions?

    Good show. At first I thought it was silly.

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  3. BogExile says:

    I was prepared for it to be tasteless but last nights encounters were both revealing and humbling.

    I was especially affected by the police officer who lost his arms and the IRA man. When Desmond Tutu asked how they wanted to end their exchange, which was filled with what seemed genuine humanity and compassion the police officer said, ‘I’d like to shake your hand.’ He wasn’t left with a hand to shake as a direct consequence of IRA violence but reached out with his articifcial arm. Was it just me or did anybody else find this profound? I couldn’t have done it.

    BogExile

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  4. missfitz says:

    There has been a lot of discussion about the appropriateness of TV as a venue for this kind of story telling. Both yesterday and today, we have had many people telling victims where they feel it is suitable for them to emote!

    In my view, it is the right and perogative of the victim to choose their time and place. If this was the suitable venue for where they are in the healing process, then they have a right to be there.

    While there are many notable and laudable programmes running at the moment, and agencies looking into appropriate ways to heal through remembering, I think we should remember that this process does not belong to any one or any group. It cannot be forced down a road of anyone’s chosing.

    In some ways, perhaps that is what made last night so real. I was strcuk by the man who was so uncomfortable to be with a UDA man, but in the end his comment was “I acknowledge you”. For that man, that may have represented a major move forward for him.

    But perhaps the most touching was that mans son, who asked “Would it not have been better to have been different that to have been a killer?”

    The biggest shame in all of this is that we have left two of the biggest debates on healing and remembering in public to be wholly managed by the BBC. It is to their credit that they have done it, but as a society we need more opportunites to hear the stories and allow them to be told.

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  5. govt fails says:

    This should not be handled by the BBC, whose agenda is good television and not ‘truth’ or ‘reconciliation’ or even closure of sorts.

    What we don’t see is the raking up of the past that was done in finding people who would agree to do this in public, on television and the cost of that.

    Yes a forum of this sort is needed but voyeuristic television is not it.

    Broadcasting a T&R commission is one thing, and should likely be done, but setting up this for ‘good tv’? No.

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  6. TAFKABO says:

    You say the words good TV as if that is a bad thing.
    TV is the most powerful medium on the planet, when it is done well it can be an immense force for good.

    I haven’t had the opportunity to see this particular programme, but I can find nothing wrong with it in principle.
    Hard as this may be to believe, most people don’t come to Slugger to debate these things, instead they have only their televisions as a connection to events and issues

    ~~TAFKABO~~

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  7. Jo says:

    Bogexile, I found it..extremely moving.

    To the point of tears.

    Again the positive response to victimhood defies those who created the victim. Defiance consists in not being bitter – as we have now seen two nights running. Intense, unmissable.

    A Commission is one thing, TV could only ever be part of it. Lets not identify one with the other.

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  8. missfitz says:

    Govt fails…
    I think you fail to make a conclusive argument as to why this is not a good thing. By calling it voyeuristic, you are putting the focus on the viewer, which is of course an important factor.

    More important is the teller of the story. I dont know what your experience of this is, but to me some of the most powerful and emotive occasions I have witnessed have been times when people are allowed or permitted to tell their stories, often for the first time.

    The act of violence that has been committed against them has altered all aspects of their lives and has robbed them of any feeling of safety. And on most occasions, it may have only warranted one news report on the radio. While the world has ceased to revolved for the person concerned, the rest of the planet just keeps on trucking.

    This is a singular opportunity to tell the story. To let everyone know the pain it caused, and how your world went black.

    It has taken tremendous courage for everyone to participate in this process and they must be congratulated and thanked for doing so. Perhaps we can all learn a little about tolerance from them.

    We might also learn about the man across the table from us, whoever that might be. Learn where he comes from, what his motivation was, why he felt the way he did.

    Lets learn a llittle from the process and start to come out the other end of these troubled times.

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  9. Narcissus says:

    Was touched by the RUC man and the IRA volunteer`s meeting. It was particularly refreshing to see the honesty and willingness from both off them to confront their pasts with openness and the desire to go forward building on the here and now and not the past.

    There is hope.

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  10. BogExile says:

    I measured my own second hand bitterness against the stories of those who were actually harmed by physical violence and found myself wanting.

    Who am I to harbour a proxy hatred on behalf of others who have freed themselves from their own victimhood.

    I’m as cynical and hard bitten as the next man. But I have to say that the pain and honesty of these exchanges cut through me like a knife. I expected Tutu to be mawkish and superficial. He was quite beautiful and that’s not a sentence I write very often.

    I’m away to swallow some ‘whataboutery’ pills. Normal service will be resumed. Sadly.

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  11. govt fails says:

    Miss Fitz I do not disagree with you about the telling of stories. I disagree about the venue, the objective and the manner done. The BBC’s motivations were not altruistic. Nor are ours. We may feel all warm and fuzzy after viewing the show but that is not the point, is it?

    Who are we to judge?

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  12. govt fails says:

    Corrected link IRA killer of murdered man (pictured) refuses to face relatives
    A convicted IRA killer was last night slammed for pulling out of a meeting with the son of his victim.

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  13. govt fails says:

    IRA killer of murdered man (pictured) refuses to face relatives

    one more try for link sorry

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  14. Jo says:

    Box exile: beautiful IS the word. Don’t be shy.

    What a wonderful man, the holiness just shone from him and I was separated like you by a TV screen. I can only imagine what those in the room felt from him.

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  15. sohnlein says:

    The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed.

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  16. Glen Taisie says:

    IRA volunteers,Tommy McCrystal,Joe Doherty and Ronnie McCartney have so far all declared the “war” to have been futile and thatviolence got us nowhere. Perhaps we should hear this from the leadership.

    “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
    Pro patria mori.”

    The distress still felt by all the victims made viewing difficult but necessary.

    “WAR WAR is stupid”

    .

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  17. Dave says:

    This sounds like a good program, I can’t wait until Gerry Adams and the McConville family get their turn?

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  18. Dave says:

    This sounds like a good program, I can’t wait until Gerry Adams and the McConville family get their turn?

    Posted by Dave (sorry bo’shank nothing to do with me)

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  19. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Well, watching the current programme, regarding Michael Stone, shows the short-comings of this televisualised approach.. at least in this case.. Stone denies that he murdered the member of the family sitting across the table from him.. and they’re left.. where exactly?

    Where was the research before this confrontation was filmed?

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  20. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Not bo’shank3

    Pete Baker

    Sheesh.. Mick!

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  21. Betty Boo says:

    Tonights programme remembered me of a poem by Stephen Cane written in 1894.

    ‘The wayfarer
    Perceiving the pathway to truth
    Was struck with astonishment.
    It was thickly grown with weeds.
    “Ha,” he said,
    “I see that none has passed here
    In a long time.”
    Later he saw that each weed
    Was a singular knife.
    “Well,” he mumbled at last,
    “Doubtless there are other roads.”

    Betty

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  22. missfitz says:

    Which was better Pete, knowing the truth that Stone wasnt the killer, or having some false sense of bitterness against him. I dont know the answer, but I was really fascinated by Stone.

    I always saw him as just evil, and I dont know what I think now. His continuing reference to “dehumanising” and “target” made my blood run cold. It shows that a man has to travel a long journey to take the life of another man, and that journey includes a lot of doctrination and brainwashing.

    Just one other note, I too was struck by how hollow it all sounded…… well, it was our civil rights you see, few of us had the vote, the housing was bad and there were no jobs. So we killed your husbands, fathers, brothers…..

    Maybe if nothing else, the futility of all of this was shown, the misguidedness of it all.

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  23. missfitz says:

    thanks for that link bo’shank, but it reinforces my opinion. No matter how easy they make it look on the telly, this is heart stopping stuff. Deehan hadnt got the courage to go through with this ordeal, and I think that proves the difficulty and courage of all the others that went there this time.

    And bo’shank, warm and fuzzy was the last thing I felt. I felt confused, dazed and really disturbed. I felt that not everything we believe in stands up for scrutiny and that a lot of families have been deprived.

    As I said earlier, in the absence of a state monitored or state sponsored commission of truth and healing, this was a good move by the beeb. Not ideal, but neccesary.

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  24. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Perhaps, missfitz, but we don’t have any further truth from the program tonight.. and, more importantly, the family concerned have greater uncertainty.

    What I was struck by, though, was the apparent inability of Desmond Tutu to process what had actually taken place.. he simply kept to the script and, to deliberately misquote him, contrived a closure.

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  25. Occasional Commentator says:

    Tonight’s meeting involving Stone was interesting. It could be said that it didn’t go as well as the other meetings. There was still disagreement over whether Dermot Hackett was an IRA man, but that didn’t get in the way of a partially successful conclusion. Some could claim that murder of a murderer is still murder and is still wrong.

    But regardless of all that, the important thing is that Dermot’s family were still able to offer forgiveness even though Stone didn’t ask for it and presumably didn’t feel he deserved it. And I believe Stone was entirely genuine when he responded to say that the family were better people than he would ever be.

    In this series, I was expecting either to see a Jerry Springer style argument, or (more likely) the killers making desperate pleas for apology. But what happened (in most encounters) was more interesting – the victims offered forgiveness even to the killers even when the killers seemed quite arrogant or complacent about their role, and then the killers were clearly moved by the offer.

    Not every meeting is going to result in the killer admitting that they and their organisation were in the wrong, and we shouldn’t expect it to. But this programme showed the power of forgiveness.

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  26. wondering says:

    Bo’shank
    I know where you are coming from, and while I think that we, as the wider audience have something to gain, the prime people in this are the victim and perpretrator.

    If it was okay for Mrs Hackett and her brother in law, then that HAS to be ok for me. She got a little of what she needed, to be validated, to look that man in the face. He may not be the killer, but as he said himself, he was morally as guilty as the man who pulled the trigger.

    And I thought the archbishop remained in control, he looked like he was really struggling to find the right thing to say.

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  27. BogExile says:

    Michael Stone seemed to represent the outer limits of humanity warped past the point of no return.

    I know it was TV and carefully shot but there seemed to be no light behind his eyes – the sort of moral void you might expect to exist in the mind of someone who has so much blood on his hands.

    I think that this man would welcome death because he knows there is no way back for him now, that he has taken himself beyond the pale.

    I think he was sincere and it’s to his credit that he presented his story without artifice, without appealing for forgiveness. This is an intelligent man – he opted for perhaps the worst but the truest representation of himself.

    In short, he looked damned.

    I think the Hacketts were magnificent. You can see these people tearing themselves out of their grief and their rage. What an effort it must be. How much easier to sit at home in front of the television and hold your own second-hand grief cosily close to your heart where it has always been.

    The ultimate rejection of the violence which has damaged us all is the grace to forgive. The arguments for physical force republicanism and loyalism were completely anihilated by these programmes. Laid waste as a repulsive, cruel fiasco

    BogExile

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  28. Jo says:

    Bogexile, Tremendous.

    I thought precisely that about those black eyes of his. How many has that man killed?

    The sheer ordinariness and bravery of Dermot Hackett’s brother confronting the malignity – they didnt need to be told by Stone that they were better than he was.

    (I am sorry I wasn’t the other Jo. :))

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  29. shawshank says:

    The former RUC member and the former IRA member,on facing the truth,seemed to develope a deeper understanding of each other,and a great respect for each other,which proves that human beings can find common ground when they allow each other to have their say, I was deeply moved when they shook hands could this be the beginning of something very special.

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  30. Belfast Gonzo (profile) says:

    Even hardened hacks like ex-BBC security correspondent Brian Rowan thought the show was a success:

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/story.jsp?story=681516

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  31. fair_deal says:

    http://www.sundaylife.co.uk/news/story.jsp?story=681354

    Not all can face the consequences of their actions

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  32. corkonain says:

    I thought the show on last night (Tuesday) was quite moving, with the ex-British army man and the sister of the man he killed and also when he met Martin Meehan, the man he nearly killed.
    It was very moving and especially when Martin and Cliff embraced and sat down afterwards, both men were tearful and their hands were trembling.
    Martin made a good point that people lived the troubles/the war from day to day and for the moment and looking back, the whole situation was chaging literally from day to day. It’s easy to look back in 2006 in hindsight and make judgements, but it’s all relative.
    Anyway, fair play to the BBC for an honestly moving series.

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  33. elfinto says:

    Is it possible to watch this programme on the Net?

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