Mr Hutchinson and Ethnic Thematics by Cillian McGrattan

10 views

This a guest post on Billy Hutchinson’s recent interview by Dr.Cillian McGrattan of the University of Ulster

When it comes to dealing with the past, the PUP have often been seen as one of the more upfront political parties – that is, less inclined to indulge in ideological double-think, smug condescension or obfuscation about deeds, dates and motives.

Billy Hutchinson’s Newsletter interview in which he claims that while he ‘wouldn’t try to justify’ his killing of two Catholics, ‘we’re not in a united Ireland’, is representative of that tradition. As such, they should be taken seriously. Read within that tradition they are unsurprising – they are frank, callous and brutal. Of course, they are also self-pitying, deluded and machismo (though perhaps this latter element is deliberate, with an eye to the more militant section of the PUP’s support base). Overall, they reflect the loyalist narrative of the peace being a victory of the IRA through a long, bloody war of attrition and self-sacrifice.

But Mr Hutchinson’s remarks resonate at other levels.

For example, I would expect that the families of his victims and others would find them hard to stomach. I would expect that the interview is potentially retraumatizing and, as such, gives rise, once again, to questions regarding the role of political elites in society.

In this regard, the interview resonates at the level of designing policy to work through the past. It reveals the shallowness of the Haass/O’Sullivan emphasis on acts of acknowledgement and the vacuity of elements of the storytelling movement, which forms the basis of the work of many non-governmental organizations in Northern Ireland.

At this level, the interview echoes Martin McGuinness’s recent Al-Jazeera performance, where the Deputy First Minster resisted calls to admit how many soldiers he killed. Mr McGuinness averred that any confession would be represented as boasting.

Given Sinn Féin’s support for truth recovery, Mr McGuinness’s reticence looks, again, like policy incoherence. But taken together with Mr Hutchinson’s openness, it is difficult not to draw the conclusion that any process that valorizes stories of perpetrators’ grief and suffering will work to foreclose accountability, to work against what Anthony McIntyre has described as the justice of revelation.

The lesson that could be drawn from the two interviews is the need to recalibrate truth recovery away from story-telling and pre-ordained narratives (what Haass/O’Sullivan described as thematic recovery). For, to emphasise my point about Mr Hutchinson’s consistency: why should he give any narrative but the one that justifies his actions (or, perhaps, put in other words, the themes that send him to sleep at night)?

The political effect however is clear: It reproduces received wisdom in a cruel and crude fashion. Basing policy on thematics will only give rise to more of this kind of defensive, myopic view of the past – which, given the abhorrence that has been voiced in reaction to Mr Hutchinson, is one that will not command the support of the general public.

The interviews by Mr Hutchinson and Mr McGuinness ought to be taken seriously because they reveal that the thematic approach is wrong-headed and ethnic. An alternative is to recalibrate how we approach the past away from storytelling and away from perpetrators but instead to concentrate on the specificity of what happened to victims of political violence and to contextualize that against the available historical evidence. Haass/O’Sullivan opened the door to such a measure in the historical timelines group. I would suggest that when the parties decide to revisit the proposals they keep in mind the limitations that the Hutchinson/McGuinness interventions have revealed.

, , , ,

  • Mick Fealty

    I would only add that this commitment to thematic investigation of the past is not integral to the Belfast Agreement, but is often misleadingly treated in the discourse as though it was an inevitable outcropping of its general pathology.

    That arises, I suspect, from a broader lack of commitment to independent policy formation, which gives rise to the relativist outlook that rarely ends in accountable political actions.

    In that regard SF are certainly not alone in developing incoherent policy regimes.

  • Pete Baker

    I’d add a couple of things.

    Firstly, Akiv’s – of which Cillian McGrattan is a member – general critique of Haass’ proposals on the past – as noted previously – “in the real world pre-existing themes will skew the integrity of investigation, putting ideology before history“.

    And in response to this

    The lesson that could be drawn from the two interviews is the need to recalibrate truth recovery away from story-telling and pre-ordained narratives (what Haass/O’Sullivan described as thematic recovery). For, to emphasise my point about Mr Hutchinson’s consistency: why should he give any narrative but the one that justifies his actions (or, perhaps, put in other words, the themes that send him to sleep at night)? [added emphasis both]

    Why, indeed…

  • keano10

    Meanwhile in the real world (devoid of semantics), gangs of UVF thugs have been gathering in large numbers for the past fortnight at the junction of Mountpottinger Road in the Short Strand. (Singularly unreported by local media). Tonight they have left a suspicious package at the same junction.

    Intimidation presumably linked to the upcoming local elections in which Billy Hutchinson’s PUP/UVF are attempting to gain a council seat in the Pottinger area. Very little has changed in terms of the ‘approach’ by Billy Hutchinson and his cohorts over the past 3 decades. Hatred and intimidation of Catholics still tops the agenda. And it always will..,

  • Comrade Stalin

    When I saw the comments reported today my reaction was that he thought he would be doing himself favours by being brutally honest and calling a spade a spade (which is what other more polished characters, such as Gerry Kelly, manage to do). But he fluffed it and ended up coming across as callous and uncaring.

    I guess one difference would be that the IRA never tried to claim that actually killing civilians was a necessary part of the “struggle”. They use words like “inevitable” and “regrettable” – no less comforting to the innocent victims, but nonetheless stopping short of actively justifying them.

  • Niall Noigiallach

    What? No Jim Allister on giving it the message, taking his whistle stop “Grief Is Good” tour about the place and telling everyone how he abhors all things terrorist related? None of his conveyor belt personalities kicking up the same level of fuss as they normally do? No Mike Nesbitt either, telling us about his thoughts and feelings for all those innocent victims.

    Something must be wrong

  • Sp12

    He’s simply spelling out what we all know to be the long term tactic. Whether through a democratic vote or the British washing their hands of the whole sordid mess and withdrawing, he’ll be on the street with a gun alongside others like Gregory Campbell (by his own admission) and ready to start a full scale civil war.

    Ultimately it gives a little glimpse into the mind of Loyalism and indeed certain sections of Unionism, the belief that their ‘loyalty’ is a one sided relationship and that the uninterested lover must be held in the relationship with a bit of murder and the threat of a full scale civil war.

  • Greenflag

    Whats needed is a general amnesty for all including British forces for actions prior to 1998 the GFA temporary settlement . I feel sympathy for those victims on all sides who will never see their loved one’s killers face a jury . War is like that . Of the 10 million soldiers killed in WW1 I doubt if more than a handful ever knew who ended their short lives other than an enemy .

    It’s either that or another half century of recrimination and endless waste of time and resources playing themuns and usuns for ever and ever until even the dead my be moved to rise again to tell anybody who’s left to ffs move on .

    Hutchinson’s murder of two Catholics no more prevented a United Ireland than the Darkley massacre advanced the cause of a UI . Given that Mr Hutchinson is now committed to democratic politics one can only hope he continues on that path.

  • Barnshee

    Poor Mr Hutchinson was left “with no alternative” now 3where have I heard that before?

    “Given that Mr Hutchinson is now committed to democratic politics one can only hope he continues on that path”

    The fact that his lot can`t get elected appears to have passed him by,

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    “When I saw the comments reported today my reaction was that he thought he would be doing himself favours by being brutally honest and calling a spade a spade (which is what other more polished characters, such as Gerry Kelly, manage to do). But he fluffed it and ended up coming across as callous and uncaring.”

    @CS,

    David Ervine would definitely have handled the interview better. Ervine often told the story about his arrest–how he was arrested and tied to his bomb and forced to disarm it. He never explained what the bomb was going to be used for and whether or not he built any bombs that actually killed anybody. It is more difficult for Hutchinson who was actually convicted for murder twice. Ervine was more of a student of Sinn Fein and I’m sure that if he would have been in Hutchinson’s position he would either have avoided talking about it or used the type of platitudes that Adams normally uses.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Ervine specifically, when asked, said the bomb was intended for “republicans”.

    Ervine was really a student of Gusty Spence, who ironically despite having fired the first shots in the troubles seemed to realize quite early on that sectarian conflict wasn’t going to help anybody.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The fact that his lot can`t get elected appears to have passed him by,

    Not only that. In the interview Hutchinson said most of the UVF vote DUP. So the party’s own leader says they don’t even vote for their own political wing.

  • David Crookes

    Agree 100%, Greenflag. Move on.

  • Gopher

    My two pence, Its just another two bob agenda piece, we suffer from a plethora off them here especially at elections. The Troubles have become the X-Factor. Its a sad testament that we have debased the currency of the past so that yesterdays men can cling to their future and our media bend over backwards to assist them. People look at the Nolan show as entertainment that is the state of our political consciousness.

  • notimetoshine

    Eugh,

    These comments and assorted comments from various Sinn Fein stalwarts depress and sicken me in equal measure.

    When we strip away all the political bunkum and posturing we have to hear it comes down to this, prominent (sometimes elected) people in our civic society have blood on their hands who are ready to tacitly attempt to justify their crimes.

    I wonder how many people look at our society and think, this is just wrong.

  • zep

    Billy Hutchinson’s comments will no doubt have brought up a lot of grief not just for the families of the people he murdered but for others who suffered at the hands of loyalist terrorism. I can’t imagine how that must be. A horrible, callous act perpatrated against innocents.

    Does not our political system, however, encourage this sort of thing? We built an agreement based on bringing people in from the extremes and converting violence-doers into democrats. Billy Hutchinson is telling the truth as he sees it – why he did what he did, what he believed it was going to achieve at that time. And he recognised that he was part of the problem. Is that not what we have come to expect from all of our, ahem, ex-combatants? If Billy Hutchinson is wrong to speak frankly about his experiences then is Gerry Kelly, or Patrick Magee, or Michael Stone, or anybody else who ever took a life in the Troubles? And if the devil is in the detail, and the problem is the bluntness of the language used, does that then say more about us and our willingness to stick our fingers in our ears rather than deal with complex thoughts? This last point does not bode well for any form of truth recovery.

    I think one of the most telling parts of the interview was the comment on big house Unionism and the ways in which the potential for loyalist violence has been tacitly dangled by those who would not muddy their own hands. Still ongoing today sadly.

  • Granni Trixie

    Looks like BH just doesn’t get it. That the rationale for picking off Catholics to somehow prevent a UI Is sectarianism pure and simple. At another level it’s also totally insensitive to the feelings of the loved ones of his victims. Hardly what we want from public representatives?

    Surely he has put the final nail in the coffin of his chances to be elected? (note that he has not yet been elected but co-opted). In the past the PUP gained some support from a stream of people who,whilst not natural bedfellows with the PUP, thought it a good thing to draw ex paramilitaries into politics. That chance is blown.

    In NI the moral realm overlaps the political. This is an example of that.

  • zep

    By the way in case anyone is in any doubt, I think what he did was abhorrent and wrong. My point is about the wider issue of truth and reconciliation.

  • Granni Trixie

    Zep @9.18am

    Could be that “ex combatants”/politicians do indeed feel encouraged to come up with their version if events (ie ‘truth’) but surely the public has a right to expect better than “we would do it all again” ?

    Surely we want to see a sign that they have developed a higher standard of morality…that they have learnt something especially now that the lid has been opened on the cross generational suffering they have inflicted?

    Btw,I think you did make your moral views clear originally.

  • Mick Fealty

    CS,

    I’m currently trying to track down an interview that MMcG did back in 1990, in which he went into some considerable detail to justify the strategic targeting of some civilians.

    But this misses the point. The past is the past. It’s largely done with. What Cillian is trying to tackle is the limitations of how some of our political class propose to deal with it.

    Here there’s very little difference between Hutch and McG. It was hard, brutal, unfair but justified. That’s a protagonist’s view and good luck to them.

    But it is hardly an adequate or accurate means to measure what actually happened to us. Not least when you accept, as we must, that all (and here, I DO mean all) protagonists will lie about their past actions.

    …an alternative is to recalibrate how we approach the past away from storytelling and away from perpetrators but instead to concentrate on the specificity of what happened to victims of political violence and to contextualize that against the available historical evidence.

    Interestingly Melvin Bragg is currently featuring the Irish Anglican philosopher and mathematician Bishop Barclay, who Bragg says was a follower of the pragmatist John Locke (whose second treatise on government was as influential an event as that famous battle of the same year: http://goo.gl/fZiyW). Locke’s big ideological struggle with Decartes’s view that all things descend from human thought.

    What’s being pushed here, I think, is a form of Cartesian idealism which is intended to shrink wrap history within a series of ideological packages in order to make the protagonists feel good about what they did in the name of their favoured cause.

    In this respect, it’s not either Hutch or McGuinness, but Hutch and McGuinness and treats the rest of us as an undifferentiated consumerist mass. More glibly it’s a buy a McGuinness, get a Hutch free offer you cannot refuse.

  • zep

    @GT

    I completely agree, however what chance have we got of this? I think it is fair to assume that most people’s truth will be largely in the BH mould – i.e. it was tragic but at the time I believed it was right, conditions for conflict etc etc.

    I worry that we will simply end up with a lot of muck raked and a massive amount of old wounds reopened for people who have tried to leave their grief behind, purely to give people a platform to justify or explain what they have done. I’m not saying it can’t be done, I’m just saying that the reaction to BH would not give , e.g., Richard Haas much cause for optimism.

  • Son of Strongbow

    Hutchinson and his terrorist ilk, it is a ‘cross community’ group, illustrate that a ‘truth and reconciliation’ process would be nothing more than a justification opportunity for victim-makers.

    Every time I see some loyalist or nationalist ‘combatant’ on the TV talking about their ‘regret’ I feel like punching the screen. It must be horrendous for victims to hear someone talk about causing the death or serious injury to their loved ones and then proceed to explain ‘why’ this ‘had’ to be done.

    I cannot see how the presentation of these partisan ‘narratives’ could ever leave victims anything other than obscenely traumatised. And to what end, to allow some scumbag or other to massage their warped sense of ‘truth’?

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    “Ervine was really a student of Gusty Spence,”

    @CS,

    Yes, Spence was his personal mentor in prison where Spence recruited Ervine, Hutchinson and others and taught them to be reflective and think about why they were in prison. But once they got out Ervine was more immediately influenced by Hugh Smyth, and consciously attempted to imitate Sinn Fein.

    “and then proceed to explain ‘why’ this ‘had’ to be done.

    I cannot see how the presentation of these partisan ‘narratives’ could ever leave victims anything other than obscenely traumatised. And to what end, to allow some scumbag or other to massage their warped sense of ‘truth’?”

    @SOS,

    I once had the experience of a drunk driver who wrecked my car (fortunately it was parked and no one was injured) phone me and attempt to apologize. When he said “I’m sorry this had to happen” I cut him off. I said, “It didn’t have to happen. You didn’t have to get in the car with double the legal limit, exceed the speed limit and fall asleep at the wheel.”

    I imagine that many victims feel the same way about the non-apologies of their victimizers.

  • Mick Fealty

    There’s an issue too concerning whether we are all happy to be ‘instructed’ by virtues of such stories in our attempt to rebuild (or perhaps more accurately build for the first time) a genuinely peaceful society?

  • Gopher

    Mick when I was growing up there was a TV series called the World at War narrated by Laurence Olivier you had interviews with Speer, Harris, Karl Wulf, LeMay, Galland, Horrocks etc etc etc. In all Oliviers roles it was probably his finest and most undervalued. He became Virgil guiding us through the inferno of matter of fact commentary on death destruction from the participants painting a thousand words with one change of emphasis in his voice. Totally unsurpassed before or since. You simply don’t give flippant interviews about murdering people and expect to be taken seriously and the News Letter certainly is not competent enough to be our Virgil. I truly feel for the families of those men.

  • Brian Walker

    I fear this discussion expects too much from interviews like these, Even acceptances of responsibility can be highly selective and more like acts of defiance. We surely know from long experience that most of these will be self-serving and politically motivated – no news there, surely, though it’s right to keep trying..

    Such truth as may be available will come mainly from the evidence of the archives as the Arkiv historians argue. It is absolutely essential that the themes and patterns emerging from information retrieval referred to in Haass are set by the historians on the basis of the evidence and not by the politicians.

    The real public value of a comprehensive historical exercise is the creation of accounts which liberates public opinion from the hagiography of the political divide, Its special status would come from being commissioned by all the ;political parties. This would imply a certain willingness all round to accept the results and build a new platform for the future.

    Did violence pay is one of the many basic questions that historical inquiry will tackle. There will be no straightforward answer. The most that can be hoped for is that evidence-based analysis will undermine the old fixations and create more give and take between the protagonists.

    Incidentally there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about what the Haaas report was about. This was a diplomats’ brave attempt at synthesising the contradictory arguments put before them, not a set of prescriptions. The language was carefully neutral, transactional and as value free as possible in disputes which claim to involve ethics. It is a misjudgement to criticise it on those grounds. Look elsewhere. Haas was holding the mirror up to nature.

    What now? Breakouts do happen and maybe there will be developments in the gaps between elections.

  • sherdy

    Mick, – I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that you did not do a post yourself on Billy Hutchinson’s interview, as your only target seems to be Sinn Fein and its members.

    But now that David has obliged your only interest seems to be how you can bring in an old interview by Martin McGuinness as a moral equivalence.

    Can we expect to see you officially joining up with Jim Allister any time soon?

  • Mick Fealty

    sherdy,

    There’s lots of stories I don’t blog these days sherdy.

    That’s because I like to take the time to examine what’s presented in the news and how it’s framed. I simply would not have had either the bandwidth or the insight to pull these matters together in the way Cillian has (Kudos to David for bringing him in)…

    Its one of the reasons Slugger has lasted as long as it has is that I don’t micro manage the out of others, or indeed our commentators. I do want to do something on Scotland, but it’s been difficult to squeeze the time to write something useful.

    As for the McGuinness reference, I take it you didn’t get as far as paragraph two, where I wrote in plain site, that it was beside the point of this thread?

  • http://WindowsIDHotmail danielsmoran

    Granni Trixie[9.18] It was amusing to listen to Ian Jnr’s attempt to explain on ‘The View’ last night why the discrepancy between the DUP handling of Lo and Hutchinsons remarks. Shouting from the rooftops about the offence caused to unionists by Anna Lo but very low key mentions by DUP figures hidden away in local papers re hutchinson He made a hash of that and a deafening silence from Nesbitt and Allister about hurt caused to the catholic victims of BH and his pals murder spree, is par for the course for unionist politicians. Has any DUP or UUP figures ever condemned the shankhill butchers for instance, I seem to recall no outburst of indignation from unionists back then either.

  • MonkDeWallyDeHonk

    Danielsmoran

    No change there then. The hypocrisy of Unionist politicians when innocent Catholics are murdered has been standard for 40 years.

    I remember when UDR/RUC members were murdered off duty – the Unionist politicians were queuing up to point fingers at their Catholic workmates/neighbours for having “fingered” them. A friend of mine – a young guy whose only interest outside work was fishing – worked on a building site with Protestant workmates – one day the UFF (UDA) walked in – singled him out as they clearly knew he was the only Catholic and murdered him. Oddly enough, no Unionist politician made any statement or asked who “fingered” him.

    They all had plenty to say when Protestants were murdered but nothing to say unless sorely pressed about the murders of innocent Catholics.

    I find the hero worship by some on this site for Jim Allister to be sickening.

    As the late David Ervine said, “Loyalist” terrorists could tell you the colour of the wallpaper in the homes of many leading Unionist politicians.

    I have no time for SF but at least they’re up front about their support for the “armed struggle”.

    They don’t pretend to be against all terrorism and then ignore it when it comes from “their” side of the fence unlike many Unionist politicians and their supporters who clearly don’t regard the Catholic victims of “Loyalist” terrorism as being as quite as important as “their” victims.

    It’s laughable that the DUP + UUP think that they will ever make inroads into the Catholic community unless and until they start addressing this hypocrisy. However, based on the last 40 years, I won’t be holding my breath.

  • IrelandNorth

    Whatever about shifting continental shelves, one couldn’t help but wonder when what apears to be shifting consititutional plates, that even reformed loyalist deperadoes are used by unseen hands to sabre rattle when popular democracy threatens the dysfuntional status quo ante. His apparent retrospective that the loyalist paramilitary ends justified the partitionist means merely recapitulated the Carson imperative to resort to extra-constitutional physical force to impeded parliamentary proceedure. But if I’m not entirely paranoid and Billy is being used as a ventroliquists dummy, who exctly is drinking the [g]ottle of [g]ear.?

  • http://WindowsIDHotmail danielsmoran

    MonkdeWallydeHonk[10.21] My recollections of the mid seventies is similar to yours on unionist double standards. The only reason they aren’t calling for repartition out loud is that would strip the slimmest dgree of demcratic credential they like to claim. The logic of NI being set up with only six of the nine counties in 1921, is that the unionist established parties need to get another fix to make the place workabl in their interest otherwise they’ve no use for it. Trouble is London is highly unlikely to give them that.

  • http://WindowsIDHotmail danielsmoran

    Gopher[10.14]I recall from the last episode of the ‘World at War’ back in ’73 the final words of Olivier on the Nazis ‘It has been possible for this to happen and it could again at any moment. To forget that is guilt’.Similar lines could be spoken about these parts