Lord Eames on Moving Forward from a Divided Past

2 views

[Apologies for missing a timeliness deadline, as this event took place last October 2011, but main theme that follows remains relevant:]

Lord Eames, Former Anglican Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh

The North Down Association of the Alliance Party hosted an evening talk by Lord (Robin) Eames, former Anglican Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh, and who served as a Co-Chairman of the Consultative Group on the Past in Northern Ireland.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=US5fpvh3oFU

The talk was entitled, “Moving forward from a divided past”, and Lord Eames covered many of his experiences of the past 20 years.

Above all, he said, it is people that he remembers. At the outset he made it clear that we can’t move on as a society without considering those who have lost.

He paid tribute to those who have demonstrated courage, especially at the political level.

Lord Eames maintained that “people are basically the same”, except the labels that we put on them, which he did not approve of: “Emotions, tears, sadness know no labels.”

For him, the real question is not what caused the Troubles — in which “ordinary people were wedged in a nightmare” — but instead how we dealt with the conflict:

“The time had come … for a better way of solving our problem (through a peace process). For how long can any society bury its dead for a cause most didn’t believe in?”

And who were the victims? Lord Eames cited the 2006 Order, which states that a victim is “anyone who has been affected adversely…” He mooted, “Are those in Bangor victims?” Yes, everyone is a victim of living in a violent society, he answered.

Lord Eames spoke about his work on the Consultative Group on the Past, making specific reference to the recommendation of a Legacy Commission and powers to investigate past events:

“Unless those in government — national and local — are prepared to grasp the nettle of dealing with the past, we will always be dealing with inquiries.”

Furthermore, he suggested that for five years, there be some structure produced, akin to a Legacy Commission, to address this issue, in order to then draw a line in the sand at the end.

In regards to the controversial recommendation for a compensation payment to victims, Lord Eames said that at the time the Consultative Group was being urged by politicians to do something for the benefit of victims: “Perhaps that report was too soon. I still believe it has the seeds for the way forward.”

He described that while Northern Ireland has equality and human rights as the base of its legislation and political structures, it will be the hearts of its people that turn the page of the past: “You can’t legislate for reconciliation.”

During the Q&A session, I followed up on remarks Lord Eames made about forgiveness, and whether the forgiver must demand or expect an expression of regret from the one asking for forgiveness for their actions. I didn’t mean this question to be profound, but the former Archbishop remarked that it was.

The issue is one of sincerity in the intent of asking for forgiveness. In his thoughtful reply, Lord Eames described an occasion whereby a couple of perpetrators spoke to him, seeking forgiveness from the families who suffered by their actions. He found the families and relayed the request, who replied that if only they knew about their family life, more about them, could they gauge the sincerity of their request.

That is, it is important to be able to see the perspective of the other side. How forgiveness becomes more possible through an engagement, a relationship between the parties:

http://mrulster.podomatic.com/entry/2012-01-19T08_35_13-08_00

Responding on behalf of the Alliance Party was Dr Stephen Farry MLA, Minister for Employment and Learning. Dr Farry made the point, “We cannot move ahead and build a reconciled society unless at the same time we address what did happen in Northern Ireland.”

Dr Stephen Farry MLA

  • Ann Travers

    I agree with a lot of what Lord Eames said. However it is difficult to offer forgiveness to those who don’t ask for forgiveness because they don’t believe what they did was wrong and they justify it. Interesting article.

  • http://www.thedissenter.co.uk thedissenter

    And who were the victims? Lord Eames cited the 2006 Order, which states that a victim is “anyone who has been affected adversely…” He mooted, “Are those in Bangor victims?” Yes, everyone is a victim of living in a violent society, he answered.

    ‘everyone is a victim’ is the issue here, because that somehow amalagmates all into a block, which is why “You can’t legislate for reconciliation.”

    Being a victim is a very personal experience, not suited to any collective engagement, or ‘group’ evaluation. Statements that embrace ‘everyone’ or tries to address ‘victims’ as a ‘group’ merely isolates the individual, sharpening the pain, without offering any real value to ‘addressing the past’.

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    Responding on behalf of the Alliance Party was Dr Stephen Farry MLA, Minister for Employment and Learning. Dr Farry made the point, “We cannot move ahead and build a reconciled society unless at the same time we address what did happen in Northern Ireland.”

    This is the kind of meaningless statement which politicians trot out from time to time and which adds absolutely nothing to the debate. It may come as something of a shock to Dr Parry to learn that we are in fact moving ahead and have been for some time.

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    Responding on behalf of the Alliance Party was Dr Stephen Farry MLA, Minister for Employment and Learning. Dr Farry made the point, “We cannot move ahead and build a reconciled society unless at the same time we address what did happen in Northern Ireland.”

    This is the kind of meaningless statement which politicians trot out from time to time and which adds absolutely nothing to the debate. It may come as something of a shock to Dr farry to learn that we are in fact moving ahead and have been for some time.

  • Munsterview

    “……For him, the real question is not what caused the Troubles — in which “ordinary people were wedged in a nightmare” — but instead how we dealt with the conflict:…..”

    Nothing new in the focus of Lord Eames for Roman Catholics, Nationalists and Republicans, not only from the most recent Low Intensity War, but also the long litanies of English and Planter v Gael wars and conflicts on in this island of Ireland.

    All during ‘The Troubles’ the British attempted to keep the focus not even on all the victims of the conflict, but selectively on those who were the direct subjects of or who suffered on a collateral basis from IRA activities. There was scant reference as to where this resort to armed force came from or why it again flared up with such violence within a scant few years after the failure of the 1956/62 campaign.

    Could the grief and burning sense of injustice felt by the wounded and the relatives of the Bloody Sunday victims be dealt with if the focus was on just ‘how they dealt with the conflict’

    Things happen for a reason : the previous IRA campaign was over, I personally knew many of the principle figures who became significant figures both Regionally and Nationally in the Provos through out the Thirty-Two counties. few, very few of these had any appetite for a renewed Armed combat campaign. Most were chastened and dispirited by the results of the 56 campaign.

    I was in the company of Joe Cahill and others that came South attempting to get their old comrades re active and supportive of the defense of the Nationalist areas. That was their primary focus, the defense of Nationalist areas. Certain existing and inactive IRA members who made their way North and took part in the defense of Nationalist areas were very firmly made unwelcome by Northern main area commanders once the immediate crisis was over.

    I would remind all and sundry that the then IRA Army Council and Army Exectuive strategy was for a decommissioned IRA where less than a hundred armed men would be maintained throughout the whole Thirty-Two Counties for the purpose of ‘fund raising’ and internal policing etc. The IRA was to become the political spearhead of a totally political means only of a progressive and in the North, cross community, covert, ‘revolution by stealth’

    Joe Cahill’s generation of IRA were preoccupied with defense only in the early period, few among them believed that a widespread armed campaign could be mounted, much less have a realistic prospect of success. These Provo leaders of the early years of the Low Intensity War did not have a sudden change of heart one Monday morning.

    Externally Republicans represented the Provo/ Continuity, IRA /Sinn Fein split as involving constitutional issues of ‘recognizing Leinster House’ etc. Internally the camps revolved around issues going back years between the ‘Old Leadership’ who had their experiences forged in the 56 campaign and the preparations for it over the previous decade, These had seen the IRA almost broken beyond reconstitution between the thirties and the fifties, they were by in large cautious and conservative in their approach.

    The ‘new leaders’ without this direct experience or legacy issues had views based on the current conflict experience and did not always appreciate where their older comrades were coming from!

    This war did not just happen, it was caused and most of the causes of these systematic escalation’s are easily identified. On the Provo side much had to do with British bad faith and treachery : British politicians, government ministers and senior establishment figures sometimes overtly, most times covertly were giving the IRA a certain view of the conflict and it’s possible resolution. On the basis of these views it appeared possible to do business with the British Government.

    However in tandem with these ‘explorations’ Kitson and co were cut loose to do their Bloody Sundays and Ballymurphys’ There could only have been so many of these events and ‘official reaction’ to them before it became evident that there was a coherence and strategy to the overall British approach and the neutralizing and destruction of the IRA was the intent, rather than reaching any meaningful accommodation with Republicans.

    The rest as they say is history : Lord Eames ‘lets concentrate on the effects and ignore the cause’ has little merit for Roman Catholics, Nationalists and Republicans, it is not only the ‘Old English Song resung’ in here in Ireland, it is the same approach as the British Establishments have traditionally taken to all their Colonial conflicts in the post conflict periods.

    Despite the frequent calls here in Slugger and elsewhere for a truth and reconciliation approach etc, it just simply will not happen, a systematic stage by stage and step by step exploration of the escalation of the recent Low Intensity War from its 69 inception to the early nineties ceasefire may cause the IRA some problems, but it would also expose the totally immoral tuggery and skullduggery at the heart of the British ‘Counter Insurrectionary’ efforts.

    Lord Eames would no doubt consider himself a Christian. At the risk of being irreverent it would be the equivalent of he saying regarding the founder of his beliefs, lets forget why Jesus ben Joseph was crucified and by who, instead let us look at the effect the trauma of crucifixion had on Jesus personally and on his relatives and followers.

    More should and could be expected from a committed Christian such a Lord Eames apparently is, but he is also apparently speaking as a member of the British House Of Lords from the heart of the British Establishment. Sadly it has been the experience of the Irish that when such ‘men of God’ speak, and render unto Caesar etc, the British Caesar interest side of the equation, with few exceptions, get, the overwhelming priority and focus. .

  • Owain

    What would be the recommended ‘best’ remedy in recognizing the victimhood of Roman Catholics, Nationalists and Republicans of NI at this point in history? Suffering and oppression are bad enough with out recognition of such…just wondering what that would look like now.