In a wide-ranging interview on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence this morning (interview starts at 45 minutes), former members of the Consultative Group on the Past, Denis Bradley and Rev. Lesley Carroll, made a passionate plea for people in Northern Ireland to begin the process of engaging with the substantive issues raised in the Group’s Report (the Eames-Bradley Report), which has been effectively shelved.
The past continues to make headlines in Northern Ireland, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that ignoring the consequences of the Troubles, particularly the incalculably high human costs, is neither a moral nor a politically astute option.
Bradley urged the British and Irish Governments to now take the lead in dealing with issues around the past. Bradley said:
The British government and the Irish government have to deal with this issue. And they need to deal with it in consultation with our local politicians, but they need to take the lead on it. … Our politicians are fearful of taking the lead and perhaps are not capable of taking the lead. But they can follow on this one.
Presenter William Crawley suggested that the Alliance Minister for Justice, David Ford, might be well-placed to put the past on Northern Ireland’s agenda, but neither Bradley nor Carroll were able to indicate if Ford would be open to this.
Bradley pointed out that the Victims Commissioners have already recommended that our local politicians sit down and discuss issues around the past in a similar manner to the way that they sat down together and hashed out the political issues. He also suggested that Secretary of State Owen Patterson needs to take a more robust stance on dealing with the past. He said of Patterson’s earlier idea that a team of historians should be tasked with entangling Northern Ireland’s history:
If the Northern Ireland Office believes that is going to address the legacy of our past, I get frightened. … That will not address the issues that are out there and confronting people.
When Crawley asked Carroll if she would change anything about the report, she insisted that she would not. She pointed out that it was based on ‘days, weeks, hours, months’ of widespread consultation with people in Northern Ireland, and ‘what we came up with was our best guess at what could be done for everybody, taking everything into account.’
When Crawley raised the thorny issues of the £12,000 pound recognition payment, which derailed debate about the contents of the report before it even started, Carroll said:
Unfortunately the people in this society who have the capacity … to lead this debate in this society don’t take it beyond that [the recognition payment]. … If we are going to return to this [the recognition payment] … this is the first conversation I’ve had about this report in a number of years … then we’re not going anywhere.
She urged a more wide-ranging debate about the report, including the mechanisms it recommended such as a Legacy Commission and a Reconciliation Forum, saying:
What happened was we produced a massive report and there was a debate about a paragraph in it. There was not a debate about the report at all.
She said that as a Presbyterian minister, she deals regularly with the human fall-out of the Troubles and that we need to remember that it’s ‘the ordinary people who have suffered’ that the Report’s recommendations are designed to help.
Both Bradley and Carroll expressed some hope that the past was now less ‘raw’ and that Northern Ireland might be ready (almost?) to take a long, hard look at how to remember. I think that the Eames-Bradley Report has been woefully under-discussed (with the exception of the recognition payment, of course), and it provides the best place we’ve got to make a start.
Gladys is a Research Fellow in the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. She also blogs on religion and politics at www.gladysganiel.com