Time to admit the reduced role of dealing with the past

In the Sunday Times (£) a review by the historian and failed candidate for Canadian PM Michael Ignatieff of a book  lets a little air into the deadlocked subject of Dealing with the Past, “ In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies” by David Rieff presents arguments to counter our prevailing orthodoxies of the over-riding claims for justice and healing is remembering.

A great Irish historian once said that it would help heal his society if the Irish were to erect a monument to amnesia and then forget where they put it. Then the Irish wouldn’t have to fight over every commemoration that rolls around, the most recent being the centenary of the Easter Rising in 1916, which left behind hundreds of dead and memories embittered to this day.

Ireland might not be the only country, in fact, where there is too much remembering and not enough forgetting.

Passing over the fact that the quote is not from a ” great Irish historian” but from the eminent and brave literary and cultural critic  Edna Longley, Ignatieff extracts some   powerful quotes from Rieff’s book.

“Remembrance may be the ally of justice,” Rieff writes, but it is “no reliable friend of peace.” He points out that Spain managed the transition from dictatorship in the late 1970s thanks to el pacto del olvido, an agreement to forget the crimes of the Franco regime for the sake of the peaceful introduction of democracy.

Rieff does not always choose forgetting over remembering. He would obviously welcome the recent conviction of Radovan Karadzic for his part in the Srebrenica massacre of 1995. He concedes that justice is a good thing, especially in this case, but it is only justice, not healing, not even closure, since some Bosnian Serbs will continue to deny the findings of the court in the Hague till their dying day.

But perhaps we cannot help ourselves..

What if forgetting and remembering, as Freud told us, have precious little to do with the will? What if you really have no choice in the matter? What if memory and forgetting both do their work whatever ethics tells you that you ought to do.”

It comes as no surprise that Rieff offers no clear formula for achieving both peace and justice. And perhaps indeed, we cannot help ourselves.  In our case there seem to be no alternative to keep ploughing through the files looking for evidence and falling for  PR hits such as interrogating the Bloody Sunday soldiers and Gerry Adams which we know will produce little or nothing. For all the protestations of putting victims first, what does this do for victims, other than add to frustration and perpetuate their victimhood?  The bests that it can be said about it is that public opinion  is turning more to the present and future – and the politicians know it. In terms of political calculation, there is no percentage any more in making the past a deal breaker. .

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  • terence patrick hewett

    I personally put the slings and arrows of outrageous history very firmly in a box with a very large padlock: I file it away and only open that box in extremis.

  • John Collins

    I am minded of a famous quote, reputedly made by JFK,
    ‘Forgive your enemies, but never forget who they are’

  • Brian wilson

    I agree it is time to leave the past for historians and look to the future as I pointed out in my article in North Down Independenthttp://northdownindependent.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/North-Down-Independent-Newspaper-in-Bangor-Northern-Ireland.pdf

    It is time for some honesty from our politicians. We all recognise that we will never know the full truth and it is unlikely that anyone will be punished for many of the
    foulest atrocities but our politicians refuse to admit it.

    The Good Friday Agreement declared the war over but in practice a proxy war has
    continued with calls for justice and truth the main weapons. For the past 18 years
    many politicians have in fact used the victims as pawns in the greater
    political debate.

    They insist that we must find the truth but they are really only interested in the truth
    which fits their view of the past and can be used to justify their past actions
    and place the blame on others .While they call for inquiries these calls are
    selective. Few of those demanding an inquiry into Ballymurphy are interested having
    an inquiry into Kingsmill and in fact would probably oppose it and vice versa.

    The Independent initially supported the Bloody Sunday Inquiry but it achieved little
    merely confirming what was already known. It changed few people’s views.
    It changed
    few minds but for 12 years it was a festering sore, the focus of political controversy
    and point scoring and in the end cost £400m which could have been better used
    in improving public services. Only the lawyers benefitted.

    The call for
    inquiries raises many controversial questions.

    Firstly
    which inquiries? We have over a thousand to choose from.- Ballymurphy,
    Enniskillen, Finucane, Kingsmill, McGurks Bar, La Mon. The choice is endless.

    Who will
    investigate and will this lead to claims of bias or whitewash?

    What funding
    will be made available and could this not be better used in the Health Service
    or Education?.

    What
    documents exist and will they is made available? Can it be balanced as the
    paramilitaries did not keep records?

    Which cases
    should get priority?

    Is the
    proposal to set aside £35m to investigate Stakeknife really where we should be going?
    Will it achieve anything apart from causing distress to many families, opening
    old wounds and lead to an increase in tension between the communities?

    Is it a
    genuine wish for an inquiry or is it for propaganda purposes?

    These
    questions and many others will provide enough ammunition to continue the proxy
    war and contaminate the political environment for another 20 years. It’s time
    to move on.

    Regrettably
    any decision to move on will deny justice to some victims but this already
    happened with the release of prisoners and few victims really believe in their
    heart of hearts that they will ever get closure. The politicians who suggest
    otherwise are in fact misleading them for their own political ends.

    We would all like to know the truth but it is clear that will never happen and is becoming evenless likely all the time with leaked documents- forged or not- informers
    (credible or not) agents and double agents, M15 involvement. The truth is what
    we believe will be shaped by our view of the overall conflict and will not be
    changed by facts which do not fit.

    Dwelling onthe past over the last has prevented us moving forward and tackling the challenges of the 21st century .It has led to gridlock and stagnation. No
    wonder so many people are disillusioned by our politicians and our young people
    seeking their future elsewhere.

    We cannot allow this to continue. We should let history take over the past and work
    together to get agreement on the future. For the sake of future generations we must
    move on. We must not allow the disputes of the past destroy their future.

  • Jollyraj

    Is there a cutoff date for ‘the past’? Anything pre-98 didn’t happen?

  • chrisjones2

    The reality is that it will never be resolved to the satisfaction of all or even many victims. There are just too many practical and legal barriers that will stop full release of historic information even where such information exists. And too many vested interests who don’t want their positions disturbed.

    But we cannot find another way. The political class see too much benefit in milking the past for every vote and are aided and abetted by those seeking a lucrative role in some truth commissioning process – all in the interests of the victims of course. It’s always for the victims.

    The only people who might lead a way out of this are the two Governments but Ireland is paralysed and the NIO disengaged – and who perhaps can blame them give the abdication they see locally.

    So all we can hope for is more and more of the same nonsense. And when it all goes wrong again and again we should remember that we elected the clowns

  • chrisjones2

    “More honesty from our politicians”

    To borrow a phrase, it’s the way you tell ’em!!

  • Ernekid

    Previous generations didn’t really want to go back to their past experiences. The older adults of the 50s and 60s didn’t really want to dwell on the horrible things they experienced in the 1910s and 1920s. There were no inquiries or truth commissions to explain the terrible things that occurred in the political revolution that we are now marking the centenary of them.

  • Gaz

    How about a once and for all sort everything out day-June 23rd 2016 as well as a referendum on the EU let us have referendums on-1/How we deal with the Past-Do we ignore it etc 2/Gay Marriage-yes or No/-3-Abortion-Do we extend UK 1967 Act or ban it completely-4/The Border-UK or United Ireland-All of the above can be determined by the electorate with all Political Parties respecting the results with the issues settled for say 15 years.Other Countries do it-eg Republic of Ireland,various American States..The alternative is groundhog day and keeping Nolan busy for years!!-Discuss

  • Gaz

    Exactly-They did not have inquiries stretching into the 1950’s and 60’s for events stretching back to 1912-1922.Inquiries without end will keep wounds open for generations.One of the surprising things is how quickly things quietened down after The Boundary Commission of 1925.

  • Gaz

    I reckon he stole that quote from Nixon

  • ted hagan

    There’s a lot of money to be made from the commemoration industry, don’t forget.

  • ted hagan

    Possibly you”re right, but I want to know the sordid details of the insidious goings-on by the British secret service, the terrorist organsations on all sides and have the lid lifted on episodes like Kincora, etc, etc. From these mistakes we can learn a lot.

  • ted hagan

    And maybe if they had dwelt on them a bit more it ùight have prevented the disasters that were to follow.

  • John Collins

    Very well spotted. I was not sure if JFK was the ‘quoter’ or not. Down here the remark ‘If you are born in a stable that does make you a horse’ was often attributed to the Duke Wellington. In fact he never said that and seems to have had a deep respect for his native land. The remark, it now appears, was attributed to him by Daniel O’Connell, in an attempt to politically discredit him. But I suppose we should never complain or never explain.
    I suppose both Nixon and JFK attracted the wrong kind of enemies.,one being shot and the other ran out of the White House, by their respective adversaries.

  • chrisjones2

    But that would undermine the policy programmes of all the major parties …….

  • Gopher

    Enquiries rarely achieve anything worthwhile in my opinion and rarely prevent anything outside technical disaster. The principle reason is they are run by humans.

    “Put not your trust in princes, nor in a son of man in whom there is no help”

    There have been umpteen enquiries into Pearl Harbour a few even blame a failure of intelligence, lack of cross service co-operation and problems with the civilian administration in the strategic field. None of those enquiries stopped 9-11. Practically the exact human problems were repeated.

    Talking of 9-11 the enquiry into that suggested it was too easy to enter the cockpit so the doors were reinforced. Enter humans once more. You now get disgruntled pilots purposely crashing their planes and nobody could stop them. It was not thought through.

    Look at the Warren commission and the House committee on Assassinations what did they achieve? Both a complete waste of time except if you want to make money writing about JFK and Oswald.

    You either try people for a crime or let it go, Chilcot will be the proof of that.

  • Ian James Parsley

    But Brian‘s very point is we wouldn’t learn them.

    The truth will be twisted into our pre-existing narrative – thus, in effect, ceasing to be the truth.

    Frankly, pretending Gerry was never in the IRA and that collusion was just a few bad eggs suits us all. No one is ever going to admit otherwise and, even if they did, each “side” would believe it only selectively.

    This is far from unique to Northern Ireland. All humans spend a lot of time deceiving themselves that they are objective.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    But it’s like personal psychological problems, until these things are at some point put out in the open and accepted, we will continue to be dysfunctional, with the possibility of breakdown as the contradictions bite harder.

    I fully agree that people and societies deceive themselves, but if we are ever to escape from the default of solution through polarised conflict, it needs to have all the windows thrown open.

  • Gopher

    Your missing the point Seaan, 1998 was the escape until people accept that this place is going to be in Groundhog day forever. Anything happened pre 1998 is history whether its 1690, Famine, Easter 1916, Partition. Bloody Sunday or La Mon. Personal truth is too subjective and if one lies to themselves then you will have alot of dirty windows and some with the latch broken. Plus the people involved are dying like flies. What are you going to make some 18 year private or 17 year old terrorist accountable for a 1000 years of history? Its preposterous and totally unsupportable. 1998 is your cut off point.

  • Gaz

    That’s the idea….

  • Gaz

    Nixon was king of the cynical comment.Just finished reading Ike and Dick by Jeffrey Frank showing relationship between Eisenhower and Nixon.Cynical behaviour was Nixon’s trademark-Eisenhower never really trusted him and tried to dump him in both 1952 and 1956 Presidential elections.

  • Skibo

    If we are going to forget all commemorations, will this also cover 1690 and the siege of Derry, the Somme etc etc? If so, is there any need for the Orange Order any more? You seem to be concentrating on Republican commemorations only.

  • Kevin Breslin

    When and why does forgetting the search by victims for justice become the greatest good?
    “Forgetting t, he past” mantra is rarely used by anyone with forward looking ideas, just ones who want victims to suffer in silence for the sake of having silence. The price of silence is too much for some people whether they like it or not.
    People can go to a room and forget the past at any time, but hoping others dont for the sake of being a paracite of a “forward looking” society is regrettable.
    Consider if Newton, a forward thinker for his day “forgot the past” rather than standing on the past giants that came before him, he would be remembered simply for the apple myth.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Ignatieff is always worth listening to. There are few outsiders who have grasped the Northern Ireland situation as quickly and instinctively as Ignatieff did in his “Blood and Belonging”, which was only partly about Northern Ireland (1994) – it also took in the former Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Quebec, Kurdistan and even skinheads in the former DDR. Talking of nationalist violence (which includes in our case loyalist violence too, being a form of British nationalism):
    “A rationalist tends to believe that what people do results from what they say and intend. Thus when nationalists say violence is warranted in self-defence and in seeking self-determination, a rationalist concludes that this is why violence occurs. I am no longer so sure. So often, it seems to me, the violence happened first, and the nationalist excuses came afterwards …”

    I don’t think forgetting is an option in Northern Ireland. We have our own Karadzices, similarly prone to dressing ethnic slaughter in bad poetry, concreting over the graves of their abandoned ‘armed struggle’ and leading the calls to ‘move on’. But they don’t get to dictate to the rest of us this time – it is in our hands now.

    Whether we choose a path that prioritises justice, peace, memory or anything else is up to the rest of us – and absolutely not them. They have had their say, it has been devastating and cruel – and now it’s appropriate they stand aside and let everyone else get on with rebuilding.

    But, shamelessly, they keep pouring their concrete, shaking their heads ruefully and muttering, “All a bit of a mess down there. Let’s call it evens, shall we? Can’t say fairer than that.” And the concrete is starting to set.

  • Kev Hughes

    I have to agree with a few here, ‘forgetting’ the past and asking victims to ‘move along’ is not a recipe for sorting this matter out. I think where we can all agree is the rather duplicitous nature of most on this matter in not being brutally honest and saying they won’t come out with what actually happened, as well as others for discussing how such a matter could even be facilitated.

    Let’s take the Gerry was in the IRA matter, for instance. Need I remind you that it continues to be a proscribed organisation where many former and/or current members would be hauled to a court for mere membership? I expect many comments on this one below (and I may answer some if they’re not simple foaming at the mouth nonsense), but step back from your silo, your side and ask yourself, if you want IRA members past and present to come out and say what happened how do you go about doing that, because they won’t right now? I’m not saying give them a ‘get out of jail free’ card, but I am asking that you think how you do this because Matlock and Quincy are busy at the moment and not working in Belfast.

    Or how about the security forces and their outsourcing/working with loyalist paramilitaries? Honestly, why doesn’t the government simply come forward and tell us what it knows as opposed to hiding behind threadbare excuses of ‘national security’ for practices that occurred 20+ years ago? 3 people were shot and murdered in my estate in a shop I was at 5 minutes before it all happened and it is a well known and blatant act of collusion. Who did the patrons and owners offend so badly by selling 10p mix-ups to my friends and I?

    So, I will avoid getting into a point scoring your side vs my side argument here and merely state that not wanting to even look at the past honestly and dealing with some of the causes is a recipe to keep the past in the present.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    couldn’t agree more Kevin – well put. “Forgetting the past” isn’t what it states to be, it doesn’t really seek a forgetting of the past – it seeks a misremembering of it.

  • Lorcs1

    It may also introduce the nasty side effect that ministers may have to concentrate on silly things like a health service, education, jobs, infrastructure and a whole host of other silly things like that.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree with your overall conclusion. In terms of getting the former paramilitaries to come out and say what happened though, here’s one thing that hasn’t been tried – actually come together as a society to put moral pressure on them to do so.

    And if they won’t, properly fund a massive amount of resources into finding and prosecuting them. Perhaps a deal could be done where they get a shorter sentence if they come forward voluntarily within say 12 months; and anyone investigated and convicted thereafter has the book thrown at them?

    But all this depends upon having communities around them willing to support the rest of the people and the justice system and no longer protect the paramilitaries – that is testify against those unwilling to come clean themselves. That’s a cultural change that needs to happen.

    Churches, as well as secular influencers in the media and public life, could play more of a leading role in fomenting that cultural change towards terror. I suspect that if and when that change comes though, it will be generational – a bunch of people coming through in those communities at the same time who, upon discovering what their parents’ and grandparents’ generations actually did, are just appalled, don’t buy the shandy excuses and don’t want to be associated with it in any way. I think it’s inevitable something like that happens, indeed may well already be happening.

    (Sorry ‘no shandy excuses’ is a phrase of a centre-half in my old football team, I always liked it).

  • Kev Hughes

    You see MU, I didn’t want to start actually picking sides, but I will note that as per usual, you appear to be missing out the state here and all of its actions.

    That is the simple reason that ‘actually come together as a society to put moral pressure on them to do so,’ will not happen, as you have omitted that part of society that suffered at the hands of the security forces. Otherwise, you’re wheeling out a ‘shandy excuse’ of your own not to include the state in this (and yes, well aware of the use of the phrase, we called it ‘yellowing out’ on our football pitches in North Armagh by the Lough)if you think they weren’t a major actor in this and if you think that they did no harm and should not be brought to answer for their actions on the matter.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I don’t omit that at all. I absolutely include wrongdoing by state forces (though of course it’s a very small proportion of Troubles violence). I want truth recovery to happen across the board and that includes the state. But not only the state. The vast majority of truth recovery obviously involves the paramilitaries telling their full stories.

    So, can I assume you’re OK to start pressuring the paramilitaries to do their bit? Good to have you on board for that.

  • Kev Hughes

    I’m sorry MU, when I read over your initial response, you seemed to have omitted the state in its entirety, I must of course read between the lines or it was far too subtle for me.

    So I can assume that you’re OK to start pressuring the state to to do their bit? Good to have you on board for that.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes indeed, it all needs to happen together. Great! We’re of a mind on this.

    You didn’t miss my mention of the state, I didn’t specifically mention it in my earlier post. I didn’t actually specifically exclude it either though, so you were reading that in, it wasn’t there. But to be fair, you would need to have read previous posts of mine to know for sure I was including it. Anyway, cleared up now.

    Looking forward to your posts on this in the future – I hope many others follow your example in putting pressure now on the paramilitaries as well as the state on this. Brilliant stuff, a real step forward. Go Slugger!

  • murdockp

    I think the authorities have to be honest with the electorate and communicate clearly based on past experience how long the search for justice is likely to take and the cost of the justice in each case. If it is say a 20 year process costing £1bn then the victims should be given options as it this situation only lawyers and barristers benefit.
    I would as an alternative moot a truth and reconciliation forum where all deaths are acknowledged by all combatants from all sides including governments north and south achieved over a two year period.
    I would then pool the £500m which at £100,000 per victim would allow 5,000 people / families to be compensated rather than give this large sum to the legal profession.
    The issue we have here is the lawyers will fight such a settlement as the troubles industry keeps most of them in work here in NI.
    The victims should then be given a vote as to what route they want to go down.

  • murdockp

    This digging in the past is gold digging by lawyers. The troubles industry is the golden goose for many in the legal profession and there is little desire to turn off the peace and reconciliation tap.

  • Kev Hughes

    TBF, perhaps I am misreading it once again, but the above would seem like I’ve had some ‘road to Damascus’ moment when I haven’t actually changed what I’ve said whatsoever, or perhaps i’m being unfair.

    Alas, I look forward to you holding the state’s feet to the fire whenever we see the ‘only a few bad apples’ argument wheeled out.

  • Barney

    As a promoter of pseudo scientific ethnocentric theories it appears that the entire point of Ignatieff’s work has somehow been missed.

  • Kevin Breslin

    We have the physical evidence, we have statements open to public interrogation, perhaps we need people just to be a little more media smart and think a bit more critical thinking.

    Historians don’t take every statement, every record and every article written at the time as an absolute truth, even physical evidence has to be scrutinized.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I wasn’t suggesting it was Road to Damascus Kev, just glad you’re supporting pressuring paramilitaries as well as the state on this.

    The ‘a few bad apples’ argument is a different debate really, which comes down to what judgment we make on the overall ethos of the security forces and factually what proportion of the anti-terrorist and policing effort went rogue. I think the overall ethos was about right and the proportion of officers going rogue pretty small. But that doesn’t matter so much in this context, because I’m saying where it did go wrong and was involved in criminality, that should be investigated every bit as much, pro rata, as the actual terrorists themselves. Still, the vast bulk of resources will need to be directed at the terrorist truth recovery side of things, as the proportion of the Troubles that consisted of paramilitary actions is so vast.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    can you unpack that for me?

  • Kev Hughes

    Ah, the phrase ‘pro rata’…

    Cute MU, but not today, I’ve work to get done.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    cute? How else do you allocate the time and resources then?

    Are you suggesting we devote 50 per cent of the time to state stuff when it accounted for perhaps about 5 per cent of extra-legal Troubles deaths? That would be rather convenient from a Republican point of view … but also nonsensical and unfair.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    the Irish cultural minority is even smaller :-). But otherwise good post Greenflag.

  • Brian O’Neill

    A sensible idea Gaz. So obviously it will never happen.

  • Kev Hughes

    Damn it, on lunch, I really shouldn’t respond but oh how I love to.

    ‘Are you suggesting we devote 50 per cent of the time to state stuff when it accounted for perhaps about 5 per cent of extra-legal Troubles deaths?’

    Sorry, but I wrote that somewhere? No, I think not.

    I would say that as someone (you) who believes, frankly, or more often than not to go easier, on the ‘few bad apples’ argument, I would assume that you would devote how much to investigations of collusion? And it begs a number of questions also:

    i) Who decides on the proportion of funding for each sub set of crime committed?
    ii) How to define crimes committed by the state? There’s the Glenane gang, loyalist, but colluded with the state. How do you account for their crimes if the state was involved in this funding scenario?
    iii) Shouldn’t we be holding the state to a far higher standard than paramilitaries? Taxes of mine and my family’s went/go to HMRC, whether I like it, there’s some form of social contract there where there is none with the IRA/PIRA/CIRA/UVF/LVF/UDA/Red Hand Commandos and whatever other alphabet soup organisation there is. Sorry, but I would say there involvement in the murders of people is a big deal and yes, a simple ‘pro rata’ exercise for funding shows that one has, inadvertently, made the forces of the state and their heinous actions you’d investigate on a par with others.

    I’m sure that’s not your intention to equate them as such, it’s just funny how you did.

  • Barney

    Certainly……

    Your position on any union with Britain is ethnocentric; You repeatedly post about an ethnic division in Ireland and that is pseudo scientific nonsense.

  • Granni Trixie

    You seem to have a touching faith in historians.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    In answer:
    “i) Who decides on the proportion of funding for each sub set of crime committed?”
    That’s sortable, some sort of committee / inquiry team set up for the purpose. May require a cross-party negotiation too, I’d suspect, though I’m loathe to involve them in this, especially as some have a serious skin in the game on this. But we can get there.
    “ii) How to define crimes committed by the state? There’s the Glenane gang, loyalist, but colluded with the state. How do you account for their crimes if the state was involved in this funding scenario?”
    You’re jumping ahead there – you say “colluded with the state” but on the evidence put forward so far, that doesn’t seem to be borne out. But that would be one of the things that would be further investigated. The answer is you investigate each unsolved Troubles murder to an equal degree. Some may require more investigation and resource to uncover the truth than others but that should be the over-arching principle. All human life is equal.
    “iii) Shouldn’t we be holding the state to a far higher standard than paramilitaries … a simple ‘pro rata’ exercise for funding shows that one has, inadvertently, made the forces of the state and their heinous actions you’d investigate on a par with others.”
    We do and would here hold the state to a far higher standard than paramilitaries. So in investigating a murder committed by say a rogue cop, if he/she was found to be guilty of murder, he/she would also be guilty of other things like letting down colleagues and breach of public trust and so on, which would not apply to paramilitaries due to the latter having no normal role in society outside sectarian killing, intimidation, extortion etc.

    You seem very keen on a disproportionate amount of time being devoted to wrongs done by state forces. I wonder why?

    One could also make an argument for putting extra resource into investigating paramilitaries because they were involved in the Troubles by choice rather than duty; and they were the ones planning and carrying out the armed sectarian campaigns in the first place. One could argue – and I would – that much of the state violence simply would not have arisen had it not been for the need to take action to prevent terrorism. Some of it went badly wrong, some of it was wrongly applied and some of it crossed the line into outright murder. But actually, even if the wildest of ant-security-force claims were right, they would only account for a tiny proportion of the security forces’ work overall and tiny proportion of Troubles deaths overall. Clearly Republicans want to exaggerate it to make the plodding awfulness of their murder campaign seem somehow less revolting. But they are not people who should be specially indulged in this process, especially given their self-interest in attacking the state. It needs to be fair to all.

    All crimes being investigated equally seems a fair starting point to me. No special favours to Republicans, the state, Loyalists, or anyone else. The truth is, most of the big questions about the Troubles are one we are waiting for Irish Republicanism to answer. Like, what the hell were you thinking? There are others too but if we were being fair and proportional, we need the lion’s share of explaining to now come from Irish Republicanism. In particular, how did it become gripped by a poisonous and murderous belief system capable of killing – and seeking praise for killing – so many innocent people? How did that grotesqueness become normal within its culture, such that even today its adherents can’t see the wrong of it? That’s *the* big question of the Troubles.

    Loyalists can do their part too – their actions were no less appalling except in scale. The state can do its bit – and I wouldn’t underplay that either. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t either of them doing most of the killing in the Troubles and the “armed struggle” wasn’t theirs. The architects of the “armed struggle” have more questions to answer than anyone else.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    in what way is it ethnocentric though – can you explain?

    Ethnicity is studied in the social sciences. Is its study to be discontinued now, as it’s “pseudo science”? On what basis do you single out ethnicity as an invalid concept? I wonder what other social science concepts you’re not keen on … class, gender, race?

    Or could it be perhaps that Irish nationalist ideology does not allow you to admit the reality of ethno-national division among people on the island? And this after Irish nationalists spent so much time arguing for their ethno-national difference from the British … you must see the irony?! Maybe not.

  • Barney

    That is a rather dramatic leap of imagination, I suppose its easier to argue about something I didnt say rather than something I did say.

    Astronomy is a science Astrology is a pseudo science both are based on a study of the heavens, they are not equally valid.

    Anthropology is a valid discipline the misuse of it is not.

    Scientific racism (to whatever depth and degree) has long been discredited, those promoting differences between people when clearly none exist need to carefully lay out exactly what differences they see. So far you have been unable to explain the theory you are promoting despite it being central to most things you type.

  • Kev Hughes

    I see where we’re going with this, the usual.

    I feel sad that I even type this, but for posterity I shall. I will leave it to you whether you wish to respond so that we go round in circles MU, entirely your choice. I will not go round in circles, hence this lengthy response.

    ‘That’s sortable, some sort of committee / inquiry team set up for the purpose. May require a cross-party negotiation too, I’d suspect, though I’m loathe to involve them in this, especially as some have a serious skin in the game on this. But we can get there.’

    Unfortunately, nearly everyone has skin in the game, it’s the nature of the beast here.

    ‘You’re jumping ahead there – you say “colluded with the state” but on the evidence put forward so far, that doesn’t seem to be borne out. But that would be one of the things that would be further investigated. The answer is you investigate each unsolved Troubles murder to an equal degree. Some may require more investigation and resource to uncover the truth than others but that should be the over-arching principle. All human life is equal.’

    I’m sorry, but for very good reason, I don’t particularly trust the state and it’s security apparatus. Call it the way I’ve been treated by it, call it the way it has colluded (I do believe that Cameron stated this before, though fell short with the Da Silva report as the establishment continues to cover its tracks), but I believe there is plenty of evidence, unfortunately, there is also plenty of not wanting to see what is in front of ones’ eyes also. Living in North Armagh in the 90s, I’m sorry, but saying to me that collusion hasn’t been proved, by whom? The state? Hmmmmm

    There is a very good reason (maybe more than one) why I would want more resources placed on investigating the state than ordinary paramilitaries:

    i) I hold them to a higher standard and I do not see them being actually held to account, whether with Bloody Sunday, Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson whose boys I went to school with or the 3 people shot in my estate with state involvement.
    ii) We should already have some evidence existing of paramilitary murder investigations. After all, the old RUC did investigate republican crimes at least, probably not the ones with supergrasses involved that murdered people, but hopefully the others.

    ‘We do and would here hold the state to a far higher standard than paramilitaries. So in investigating a murder committed by say a rogue cop, if he/she was found to be guilty of murder, he/she would also be guilty of other things like letting down colleagues and breach of public trust and so on, which would not apply to paramilitaries due to the latter having no normal role in society outside sectarian killing, intimidation, extortion etc.’

    Rogue cop? *Sigh*. Honestly, their ‘duty’? Their is a very good reason the RUC is no more, title deeds or none; they were sectarian. They colluded with paramilitaries. Until you stop with this ‘rogue cop’ nonsense it will become difficult to take you as serious as I would actually like to.

    ‘You seem very keen on a disproportionate amount of time being devoted to wrongs done by state forces. I wonder why?’

    That’s simple: I hold it to a far higher standard than paramilitaries and they have killed people I know. I always highlight it because a state that murders its own has broken its social contract. You always seem very keen not to mention collusion that often, I wonder why?

    ‘One could also make an argument for putting extra resource into investigating paramilitaries because they were involved in the Troubles by choice rather than duty;’

    Those guys were there by choice too, and as much as I hate paramilitaries, they could say with a degree of authority that they too felt a ‘duty’ WTF that actually means. Nor does one’s ‘duty’ let the state off killing civilians (not that you said so) or mean that one should expend more resources on non-state actors.

    ‘and they were the ones planning and carrying out the armed sectarian campaigns in the first place. One could argue – and I would – that much of the state violence simply would not have arisen had it not been for the need to take action to prevent terrorism.’ – I’m sure those three in my estate would beg to disagree, if they were alive today. I’m sorry, but that is a deplorable thing to say. One was working at the shop, the other two, including a father of 3, were simply there buying bits and pieces.

    ‘Some of it went badly wrong, some of it was wrongly applied and some of it crossed the line into outright murder. But actually, even if the wildest of ant-security-force claims were right, they would only account for a tiny proportion of the security forces’ work overall and tiny proportion of Troubles deaths overall’

    I want you to understand one thing here, I couldn’t care less about the numbers, it’s the fact they did it. The rest is all ‘republicans this and that’ but we know who they killed and that it was deplorable, but the state? Really, they killed people such as lawyers and others because of what precisely? So yes, I am focused on the state, among others. All lives are equal, but when we go down the tit for tat route which you seem to have wheeled out, then I’m afraid you seem to be creating some sort of justification, unintentional or not.

    ‘Clearly Republicans want to exaggerate it to make the plodding awfulness of their murder campaign seem somehow less revolting. But they are not people who should be specially indulged in this process, especially given their self-interest in attacking the state. It needs to be fair to all.’

    I actually couldn’t care. They killed people in some of the most horrendous ways imaginable, I won’t shy from that, why the hell would I? These guys should be brought to justice if not already.

    ‘All crimes being investigated equally seems a fair starting point to me. No special favours to Republicans, the state, Loyalists, or anyone else.’ – It seems a fair point, but then we get into details, so if the state has dedicated a lot of time investigating republicanism and little to none investigating its own actions, should they dedicate equal resources to both, pro rata? I say no for the simple reason it was a clear whitewash in the first instance.

    ‘The truth is, most of the big questions about the Troubles are one we are waiting for Irish Republicanism to answer.’ – I’d disagree, but then, you and I will on that one.

    ‘ Like, what the hell were you thinking? There are others too but if we were being fair and proportional, we need the lion’s share of explaining to now come from Irish Republicanism. In particular, how did it become gripped by a poisonous and murderous belief system capable of killing – and seeking praise for killing – so many innocent people?’

    Or, why did unionism create a monolithic quasi-religious state and treat their neighbours like dirt? Honestly, 50 years and 1 party rule. For folks who keep talking about democracy where you have one party rule for 50 years without any form of effective opposition that might have a chance of wrestling power from it, you have to ask if they were the western european equivalent of the Ba’ath party? (A little facetious, but the point is well made).

    MU, I am sure you will respond, it’s your prerogative of course, but if you’re going down the route I think you are then know I won’t be answering as I’ve said everything I already have to and I’m sure I’ve read a version of your response that you may post.

    Always a pleasure to go over these things mind, so I wish you the best there.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Barney I have lost count of the number of times I have posted definitions of ethnicity up here and explained in detail why it’s of relevance to our bickering tribes. Your comment just isn’t right.
    Once again, when we talk about the ethnic divide in Ireland it has nothing to do with race. One last time, here’s the link to wikipedia:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_group
    Or perhaps send an inquiry to this group at Magee:
    http://www.incore.ulst.ac.uk/services/ecrd/
    Or read the likes of conflict resolution experts like John Darby who describe it as at least in part an ethnic conflict. The “Blood and Belonging” book by Michael Ignatieff also treats it as an ethno-national conflict, along with the likes of the former Yugoslavia and Ukraine. They have a point.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’ll respond more fully when i have the time – it’s a long post – but on collusion, far from it. I’ve been very involved in debates on here about collusion and am more than happy to discuss it. I think the way it’s being spun currently in the media massively needs addressing and I’m always up for a discussion on that.

  • chrisjones2

    …many of whom are former journalists who can no longer cope with the pace of modern life but have big cuttings libraries they can recycle

  • Barney

    What it is that makes me one ethnicity and my blood relatives another ethnicity?

    I don’t have kennel papers so a simple explanation of this supposed ethnic division would be nice and should be easily described. Are there degrees of ethnicity? Is it similar to the DNA companies who often discover an “exotic” ancestor to spice things up a little thus explaining my fondness for garlic. De Selby had a great explanation for mixing is that what you mean?

    Of course I can’t tell what the motives of someone proposing such an ideology are, all I can do is ask for a concise explanation of what it is they see that I don’t. Until a description is provided I just have to go with the common sense approach.

  • submariner

    Kev Nail hit absolutely on the head. The problem with MU and other Unionists is that what you have so eloquently stated does not fit in to their sense of victimhood,that they were the victims in all this and despite the ever growing mountain of evidence that agents of the state indulged in killing and colluding with loyalists is a fact they are simply unable to countenance

  • aquifer

    Thugs and murderers stole my youth, and now they must invade my old age?

    No thanks. Anger is bad for the blood pressure. There is too much best forgotten.

  • Lorcs1

    We talk in riddles and circles about how we are going to acheive the magic formula to provide truth and justice for the victins and how we acheive fairness.

    In reality there will be no truth,no justice and no fairness for the victims. Its not right, its not the way it should be, but it is the way it is. They’ve lost. Maybe a loved one, a stolen childhood, or an innocence and no amount of policy/legislation will change that. Sure, one or two might get a conviction or an apology but as a whole the victims have lost.

    Either we accept that and stop stringing these people along with false promises, and move on as a society, or we drag it out for another 30/40 years until most of the perpertrators and their victims are dead and consign another generation to hating each other for no apparent reason.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh, I agree, polarity is how things are gong globally (“One World?”) but it’s not a recipe for a healthy polity anywhere, perhaps least of all in the wee six.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As Erasmus (and later Carl Jung) said “Vocatus at que non Vocatus Deusadent.” Certainly history is going to be omnipresent, no matter where we try and damage limit with artificial cut of points. My parallel with psychological health is perfectly serious. If these things are not dealt with in the light ofd day, the fester in the dark. There have been some very serious attempts before to sweep everything under the carpet, “Killing Home Rule by kindness” for example, where Balfour attempted to draw a line in the 1890s, and yes it brought the IPP and moderate Unionists closer together in devolution discussions, but there was no serious attempt to realistically re-think the past and get it into some kind of genuine balance, so all the problems simply resurfaced over time. Same here, they won’t simply go away because they are inconvenient to almost everyone now.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    yes there are degree of ethnicity … it’s quite an interesting topic, as I say. Sheds a lot of light on our tribal differences in NI.

  • Barney

    Who decides the proportions and why do you believe my blood relatives are a different ethnicity to me?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’d urge you to read a bit about ethnicity – even the wikipedia link I’ve sent several times – but to explain a few basics …

    Ethnicity can have both inherited and non-inherited (i.e. to some extent chosen) aspects. With the two main groups in Northern Ireland, there isn’t a racial element to their ethnic difference – aspects of cultural practice, symbolism and belief systems are much more to the fore, as well as strong group identity. Even for those who reject their group definition and seek to exit the group, they generally know what their group is perceived to be in the eyes of others. But it is quite possible for people to come from one ethnic background in Northern Ireland and transfer over to another, by adopting its codes, beliefs, use of symbolism, use of language etc. Many people have done that and it sounds like your family has experienced that.

    Ethnicity among groups as externally similar as ours should not be seen as inescapable. Really, it’s just a word for all the elements of group identity and belonging that many of us recognise and follow, often unconsciously. But it is quite possible by an act of will to eschew it, in our situation. I also know people who have, though it’s interesting to ponder whether they truly feel themselves to have changed ethnie deep down, or whether they are merely adopting codes of another group in order to feel belonging there more comfortably. I don’t know – only they can answer that.

    It’s harder in situations where race plays more of a part, as in the US. It’s simply not available to a white American to call themselves African-American and be accepted as such (see the recent controversy over Rachel Dolazal – http://edition.cnn.com/2015/06/16/us/washington-rachel-dolezal-naacp/). But it would be wrong to see ethnicity as always involving race or appearance and this is where I think you’ve made some wrong assumptions about what I’m talking about with ethnicity. Is above all a group cultural concept.

    Close to home, the Scots for example clearly qualify as an ethnic group, though at times you might struggle to tell a Scot from an English person even after opening their mouths.

    Really, do explore ethnicity if you’re interested, it is a slippery concept but an essential one. I’ll post a few quotes about the ethnic nature of the NI situation shortly.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    So here’s a good piece from Prof Richard Jenkins, (professor of sociology at Sheffield), from his paper “The Limits of Identity: Ethnicity, Conflict and Politics”:

    “Drawing its ultimate inspiration perhaps from Max Weber, the anthropological approach to ethnicity is based on the seminal contribution of Fredrik Barth and his collaborators, in ‘Ethnic Groups and Boundaries’ (Barth, 1969), and subsequent contributions made by writers such as Cohen (1985), Eriksen (1993), Geertz (1973: 255-310), and Jenkins (1997). There is a basic, consensual anthropological model of ethnicity, comprising four basic propositions:
    – [allowing for the remarks above, about the necessary relation of similarity and difference in all processes of social identification,] ethnicity is, in the first instance, about collective identification based in perceived cultural differentiation;
    – ethnicity is concerned with culture (shared meanings) but it is rooted in – and the product of – social interaction, especially across boundaries;
    – ethnicity is neither fixed nor static, any more than the culture of which it is an aspect, or the situations in which boundaries are produced and reproduced, are fixed and static.
    – ethnicity is both collective and individual, externalised in institutions and patterns of social interaction and internalised in personal self-identification.”
    He goes on, “… this is a broadly consensual model within the discipline, to which most anthropologists could subscribe in its outline form …”
    Does that help?

  • Barney

    I spent a long time posting on and moderating a Slavic form larger and much more busy than this one, I can safely say I know a lot about the use and abuse of the politics of ethnicity. The problem however is that there is no such division in Ireland.

    The ethnic argument in Ireland is like some form of moveable feast and at other times used as a top trump which is why I asked for a simple explanation of this supposed ethnic division.

    You have mostly used “ethnicity” as a counter for the obvious lack of a majority/governing mandate in Ireland etc; a traditional, commonly acknowledged definition which clearly doesn’t apply to Ireland if it did it would be very easy to describe.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    if we aren’t different ethnic groups, we have a funny way of showing it

  • Barney

    I have yet to see any poster with deeply entrenched views change their opinion on a forum, I’m willing to change my opinion provided I’m presented with a rational argument. In Ireland the ethnic argument just doesn’t hold water particularly when a change in political or economic outlook provides a much more elegant explanation.

  • John Collins

    Seaan
    In relation to killing HR by kindness, I think the attempts made in 1890 were too little and too late. In 1839, Lord Morpeth, and in, 1846, George Bentwich, proposed in the HOC that money, about 16 million in one case, should be invested in the full development of the Railway Network in Ireland. They both passionately felt that such an investment, as had been done in Belgium and Switzerland, among other European countries, would create a more modern European economy in Ireland at that time.
    However the proposals were voted down probably, with devastating consequences for the long- term existence of a full British Isles UK.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh I agree that much could have been done long before (1520s for example) but the Conservative effort in the 1890s certainly prepared the way for “Irish Conservative” rapprochement with the IPP which made a constitutional settlement far more likely before the Carson initiative militarised the argument. Not perfect but far more fertile than our “foundation myths” allow. It seemingly is in no ones interest to simply recognise that an entirely constitutional and utterly unromantic solution of mutually agreed Home Rule was being carefully crafted under the rhetoric until belligerence queered the pitch.

  • Gaz

    Agree- but for Nixon’s character flaws he would have been up there with the great American Presidents-He was ahead of every major American figure by sending his daughters to a mixed race school in 1954 and was very much behind the creation of NASA in 1957.Thing is he would have won the election of 1972 without Watergate-He just did not trust anyone..Maybe if Ike had not have died in 1969 things might have turned out differently..He was always looking approval from Eisenhower.He would win The Republican Nomination and beat Clinton in November if he was around today

  • Barneyt

    I tend to agree. Usually folks couple an amnesty with truth and reconciliation, but as you say, there are barriers and impediments to the full release…and I suspect even with the threat of prosecution removed. My gut says we do need to wipe the slate and see where it takes us.

    There is a lot of emphasis on the role of the British state presently and their blocking is only drawing attention to it. For this reason, this will run for a bit. I can certainly see full and frank admissions from the Loyal and Rebel players in time, less from ROI state and a complete stone walling from the UK government. Seems like an impasse…so only way forward is perhaps the less ugliest. Forget and see where we go…I would say forget and move on, but this assumes we know the path ahead.

  • Gaz

    Another fascinating fact is that Mitt Romney’s dad George was in the frame for The Republican Nomination in 1964- That went To Barry Goldwater who would now feel at home in The Party-Goldwater was considered at the time to be “extreme” getting endorsed primarily by John Wayne and Ronald Reagan..Goldwater lost by a landslide to Johnson..Nixon wisely sat this one out and began to eye up 1968