A ruthless fight over posterity?

Brian Feeney refers to Rod Kedward’s study of a struggle over history in the French Republic, La Vie en Bleu, to sum up a key battle absorbing Unionist and Nationalists alike, which may take years to resolve successfully.

As Kedward points out, the French concentration on memory was “neither neutral nor innocent”. On the one hand it was all about denying responsibility and on the other about recrimination. It’s the same here. Since the IRA ceasefire in 1994, but especially since the Good Friday Agreement, a huge industry, largely funded by the British administration here, has burgeoned around victimology and its twin nemesis, truth and reconciliation.

We have a sea of victims’ groups. We have ‘professional victims who make a living out of it from official funding, dredging up the past, appearing on TV, travelling to speaking engagements, ‘reacting’ to every move the British government makes in political development. We have semi-official groups. We have victims’ groups for republicans, for loyalists, for relatives of security forces, for specific major incidents. We have self-appointed, untrained, but not unpaid, victims counsellors. We have groups demanding inquiries into particular incidents, others into the behaviour of whole groups of state forces. We have a victims’ minister and a victims’ commissioner.

Many of them want a ‘truth and reconciliation’ commission. They propose various models ranging from South Africa’s to Chile’s, even though none of them worked satisfactorily. In fact, a commission, if ever one were established here, would be about neither truth nor reconciliation. The purpose would be to blame ‘the other side’ and ‘prove’ your side was right. There, yah see, told ya. That’s why it’ll never happen. Besides, how could the British administration set one up without admitting, as they’ve just done in the OTR bill, that they were part of the conflict?

What’s going on here is each side’s attempt to stamp its seal of approval on the past 40 years, and it is 40, for next year is the anniversary of the UVF bringing the gun back into Irish politics when Gusty Spence’s gang murdered John Scullion and Peter Ward. Next year is also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the hunger strikes and the ninetieth anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

He suggests that in the battle for posterity’s interpretation of the history of the troubles:

No unionist will choose to dwell on any of those events as a way to define the place they live in, whereas, of course, for nationalists north and south they are exactly what they will point to. Unionists instead will concentrate on ‘innocent’ victims while denying responsibility for anything that happened since 1966.