Drawing a line under the past…

A small informal group of Ulster Unionists have released a short document called Drawing a line under the past. It arises from several years of meeting with a range of Republican, Nationalist and Loyalist groups and focuses very narrowly on the legacy of thirty of low level but often nasty conflict. It emphasises the need for continuing contact between all parts of Northern Irish society, and warns against plumping for some kind of all purpose ‘silver bullet’ reconciliation process. It may be worth tracking back to the last Let’s Talk programme which has a relevant intervention by one of the signatories to the document below, Roy Garland. Copy below:The Unionist Group

Drawing a line under the past

16 March 2006

The Unionist Group represents an informal coming together of members of the Ulster Unionist Party since 2003. Initially a few of us met with members of Coiste na n-Iarchim�, a republican ex-prisoners group at Clonard Monastery. We also met with loyalists on the Shankill Road, with members of the SDLP and Alliance as well as with the Official Republican Group, the IRSP and with Ministers of both Governments. Many of us have worked in other contexts with people from diverse traditions and parties north and south.

While we have never formally defined our aims and objectives we are committed to healing and growth in this society and to better understanding within and between all parts of these islands. We want to see societies at peace with themselves and with their neighbours and would like to see the many constructive activities that took place across the Northern Ireland border before 1969, resumed and increased.

When considering mechanisms to help draw a line under the past, we gave prior consideration to the idea of a truth commission. The core of such an endeavour, as in the South African model, is laudable and has clearly brought benefits to that country. However in order to attain success and healing in Northern Ireland � surely the goal of seeking to draw a line under the past � the model needs to be adapted to our particular circumstances. What must be avoided at all costs in this divided society is the presentation of opportunities that could be exploited to rake over the coals of past grievances.

Many people who lost close relatives and friends wish to talk about their experiences. They want to be frank, open and confident with people around them but this is only possible when the setting and context are carefully and sensitively established. Truth is subjective, as we all know, and there is a serious risk that enquiries seeking forensic or objective truth would prove partial, inconclusive and unlikely to seriously address the hurts in society.

A semi-judicial commission, if not established in the right way, could even stimulate rivalry and discord based on conflicting perceptions. It might cause wounds to fester and extend hurt into future generations. We understand why the Presbyterian Church, the largest Protestant church in Northern Ireland, was unable to endorse such a Truth Commission at this point in time. There are well founded fears that this could, like the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, gather a mass of information at tremendous cost but shed limited light on the matter under investigation and bring little healing capacity. The Agencies of the State would be expected to tell the whole truth but neither the British or Irish Governments nor the IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries or others are likely to do this. Yet if the perception was to be created that �truth� was being fabricated or distorted for whatever purpose, more harm than good might result.

But this is not to say there should be no quest for truth or for greater knowledge and insight. Facilities and support should be provided to encourage people�s ongoing search for truth and schools could play a greater role in facilitating understanding. But any search for a singular agreed historical narrative will, we believe, prove illusory. Present understandings are limited, influenced by very significant cultural differences and sometimes in flux and people tend to interpret limited facts in terms of their own predispositions. Any attempt to come up with final answers could leave some people feeling their story had been misrepresented or neglected. It is in any case impossible to draw a single line under the past for all time whereas healing can take place when people relate to each other and reflect together on their narratives in private, in small inclusive groups and before respectful, responsive and challenging audiences drawn from both major traditions and their subcultures.

The aim is to acknowledge, empathise and increase mutual understanding among participants, but not necessarily to agree with people�s narratives. While the presence of counsellors is desirable, most participants should be drawn from ordinary walks of life. Such an exercise, to be successful, must reflect a bottom up approach and take place in free and safe spaces. Less dramatic accounts of ordinary people would be a vital ingredient. The sensitivity required if the exercise is to bear fruit means meetings should be conducted in private and without cameras. As confidence grows some may wish to face the cameras and this has its own value, but media encounters are on the whole likely to prove counter-productive and intrusive. Their presence changes the dynamics of the interaction in perhaps subtle but significant ways, however, audio recording, provided storytellers are in agreement might be a helpful means of retaining stories for future generations.

The exercise needs to be in the hands of communities all over Northern Ireland and led by local people, although the Secretary of State could quietly facilitate. At some stage a common act led by the Sovereign and President might also be appropriate. We gave some consideration to Days of Reflection, Memorials and Oral History Projects. Such exercises should coincide with extensive and widespread opportunities for personal narrative telling. It was also suggested that a shared space be created in every town and village. There a small copse of trees could be planted by local communities in order to reinforce a sense of hope and to bring communities together. Such projects could be co-ordinated to finish on a set date when samples of recorded personal histories would be symbolically buried in a time capsule underneath the trees symbolising new life and hope springing from the earth.

As a separate exercise it might be helpful if a representative group of academic researchers drawn from both major traditions could develop, as far as is possible, a common understanding of the main features of our historical conflict drawing upon the experiences of ordinary people on the ground.

Finally we would draw attention to Sir Kenneth Bloomfield�s report, �We Will Remember Them� issued in April 1998.

The following Ulster Unionists are drawn from various constituency associations across Northern Ireland and are a sample of those who contributed to the above document or assented to it. The help and support of Presbyterian Minister Rev Brian Kennaway, who is not a member of the UUP, is also acknowledged.

James McKerrow Trevor Ringland Deirdre Vincent Bill White

Billy Tate David Thompson James Smyth Winnie McColl

Steven Pointon Marion Garland Peter Bowles Tony Staney

Jack Storey David Christopher Brian Dunn Joice McKinley

Ian Vincent Steven McColl Roy Garland Philip McNeill

Stuart McKinley George Fleming Rebecca Black Gavin Howell

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  • Rory

    Do you know, Mick, where a full copy of the “Drawing the Line” document might be accessed?

    My first thought on reading what was so far reported was, “Would that Daithi O’Conaill were alive to read this”. It reads like the result of an O’Connaill initiative from beyond the grave.

  • SlugFest

    Wow. I’m very impressed and, dare i say it, hopeful.

    It wasn’t clear to me, however, what the results of the group’s ‘informal’ meetings with Coiste, loyalists, and the other groups mentioned actually were. As in, were members of Coiste (and the others) in agreement over the truth & reconciliation suggestions? the schools taking part? etc. etc.

    also, were the recommendations of this document formed AFTER speaking to all of the groups mentioned? before? over the course of?

    those questions aside, i’m really impressed. what a wonderful news story.

  • Slugger O’Toole Admin

    I don’t think it was the kind of project that aimed at anything other than engagement between former enemies/current opponents. This document appears to be a distillation of the experiences of this group, and most decidedly not an indication of the assent of anyone outside it.

  • Ken A. Biss, Sweden

    It sounds like a very good idea to me, and I wish the group the best of success. In fact, I see an echo of some of the good aspects of Scandinavian thinking in it. Here in Sweden, we kicked the war habit nearly 200 years ago and life has been good, albeit boring, ever since. Let’s hope we see the day that the only unnatural way that people in Ireland dies is of boredom. The group are wise to recognise that reconciliation takes time. All the more reason to leave the past to historians and get on with the slow and laborious work of building the future now.

  • untermenschen

    “Truth is subjective, as we all know, …”

    Actually, truth is not subjective.

    Our differing interpretations of truth are certainly subjective.
    But, irrespective of that, at the heart of everything lies an objective immovable truth.

    A road accident can be witnessed by 6 people who might all give different accounts of what took place.
    But what actually took place is not altered by whether or not one or none of the 6 accounts is completely accurate.
    To elevate subjective truth – which, by definition may not be an actual truth at all – is tantamount to accepting a majority view of what happened as the truth.
    Even worse, to talk in terms of a plurality of truths – instead of multiple interpretations or experiences – is a complete contradiction in terms.

  • Vichy Unionism in full cry. Shocking stuff but all one would expect from uberliberal unionism. No doubt it will be welcomed in the usual quarters.

  • Rory

    Please, David Vance, explain to me this concept of “Vichy Unionism”. I can imagine what you are getting at, but I would really much rather know where you mght be going with this thinking.

    Please elaborate. All debate is helpful.

  • baldrick

    As a fairly broadminded unionist, (tho’ “liberal” is not a label I would naturally embrace), I find the article and the sentiments it sets out eminently sensible and very encouraging.

    The past saw horrendous acts of brutality from all sides and unfortunately I don’t see the two sides getting closure, or even just closer, anytime soon so I suspect that a common an accepted “history” of the troubles is unlikely to emerge in our generation.

    However a mechanism for victims to tell their stories, to feel that their loss will be heard and remembered for years to come. A mechanism which doesn’t question their pain, doesn’t seek to devalue or minimise their loss by justifying the violence (from whatever source) which caused their pain. That to me has huge merit.

    To my mind the greatest sense of injustice that many victims feel is that 2 days after the their loved one was buried, the world moved on. And they are forgotten, the pain that they have to keep on carrying is forgotten by a world too concerned with trival sh*te like who’s shagged who in Big Brother to spare them a thought.

    The knowledge that their story will continue to be heard down through the years, perhaps in the same way as several of the Holocaust museums/memorials now use audi histories of individual victims to guide and inform visitors, might actually offer a greater sense of comfort and closure than any number of confrontations with “the enemy”.

    If these views make me as a Vichy, uberliberal unionist then I will henceforth wear the label with pride.

    I can only suggest that Mr Vance examines labels such as “Taliban” to see how well they fit his painfully blinkered worldview.

    My 2c

  • Jo

    These people are being positive and seeking to move forward.

    Unfortunately there will always be those who seek to portray any attempts to communicate from the laager as traitorous. Such thinking belongs in the seventeenth century, not the twenty-first and it is to be hoped that there will be as many here soon who espouse that view as can actually rememeber that earlier time…

    I have posted something on my own site on the potential for changing perceptions of Unionist identity in the prolonged absence of an armed wing of Republicanism. I draw on the inspiration of Mr Ivan Morrison, which like the potential for thinking and reflective Unionism, is another (undersold) Northern asset…

  • slug

    I wish this group well and hope to see a lot more from them.

  • circles

    Untermenschen – in referring to your idea of you what you call an “objective immovable truth” you gave the example “A road accident can be witnessed by 6 people who might all give different accounts of what took place.
    But what actually took place is not altered by whether or not one or none of the 6 accounts is completely accurate.”
    So taking this case (and broadening it out for the whole of the north) – the question of what actually happened remains unanswered. Nobody has access to this “immovable truth” which supposedly exists, all we have are the individual truths of those involved. Unless of course somebody comes along and stamps their foot and says “yer all wrong. My truth is the real truth” – which would be utter nonsense.
    Accepting a majority view of what happened as the truth is how society works. An accepted consensus becomes the truth – reality is created in this way.
    The only truth we have access to are the subjective truths of ourselves and others, and when they don’t agree we have to have the courage to accept that someone elses truth is not less valid than mt own.

  • Yokel

    What a waste of their time..they miss the point..too many people don’t want to forget the past because they live in it and revel in it. How naive..I suggest we need a preparation phase..we shoot all those who keep going on abotu the past thus leaving us better ingredients to go take on the future. To me it would be the most righteous form of killing since fighting the Nazis.

  • Jo

    Yokel:

    I agree, in fact I have a list of prime targets.

    And after a quick phone call, I find that I have God on my side as well.

    (Well, when I spoke on the phone I did hear a voice saying “Oh…God…”)

    🙂

  • untermenschen

    circles
    I accept a lot of what you say in terms of the self-evident way that society works.
    But, the point I make is that it is very dangerous to go down the road of describing interpretation, perception and even experience as “truth”.
    That allows for unchallengable mythology, demonisation and scapegoating to take root.
    Human nature being what it is, it also allows for the complete or virtual avoidance of any responsibility, as long if you have enough voices on your side.
    It can be, as I say, also very dangerous.
    Take your point: “Accepting a majority view of what happened as the truth is how society works. An accepted consensus becomes the truth – reality is created in this way.”
    The often stark difference between an accepted view and reality may be how society often works, but should it be?
    Because a majority of Germans once considered Jews to be the cause of most of their ills, did that make it a truth?
    Because most white people in USA and S Africa – and virtually everywhere else – once considered black people to be inferior, did that make it true?

    To talk in terms of a plurality of truths – instead of multiple interpretations or experiences – is a complete contradiction in terms; also, in our own situation, it ensures that the battle to try and ensure that a particular (as in broad community) “truth” comes out on top will just go on and on.

    Of what use to the future is it to just talk blandly of all “truths” being somehow worthy of equal respect?
    Does that not just reinforce predujice of the “it was all their fault” kind?
    Is the gunman’s truth or the discriminator’s “truth” as equally valid as their victims if they have enough people citing the same “truth”?

  • Just a few thoughts.

    The “Unionist Group” (could they not have thought of an original title) says it hasn’t formally set out its aims and objectives. However, 2 planks are obvious. It wants to “draw a line under the past” and to avoid situations “that can be exploited to rake over the coals of past grievances”.

    As for the first plank, it isn’t for Roy Garland et al to draw lines anywhere. It takes all sides to do that. There are many Protestants who still experience ongoing below-radar aggression and bullying from republicans. They think the IRA has had a change of tactic rather than a change of heart. They know what local republicans are like and believe their leaders’ speak with forked tongues.

    Re. the second plank, if Garland et al are serious about getting victims to speak openly, they can’t limit that expression to avoid raking over coals from past grievances. (Actually the coals are hot cinders and the grievances are not all from the past.) Many victims of IRA aggression see their victimhood in sharp polarising political terms: in that their suffering arose from the IRA attempting to wipe out anyone who was British and Protestant where it was strong enough to do so. They are entitled to be heard on that basis, not suppressed from the Garland process on the grounds of political incorrectness.

    The “Unionist Group” contradicts itself. It accepts that there can be no agreed narrative but then calls for “a representative group of academic researchers” to “develop a common understanding of the main features of our historical conflict”. Did anyone bother to read what they were writing? It’s also silly to believe that you can create a historical consensus when history is all about interpreting events. Does anyone expect Willie Frazer and Martin McGuinness to agree on what caused the Troubles?

    As for the Days of Reflection, memorials etc., are these to commemorate all those who consider themselves victims? Since there is no common definition of victimhood, how can all who consider themselves so be commemorated together? As for all the stuff about tree planting and time capsules, that could be a community relations programme self-parody. Why not just have hugging sessions as well?

  • untermenschen

    “There are many Protestants who still experience ongoing below-radar aggression and bullying from republicans.”

    I agree.
    The problem as well for Protestants is that they are now the recepticle into which all blame is being deposited.
    Not only, the crude argument goes, did we butcher you for decades but now you have to realise it was all your fault.
    Even a casual glance at the postings on Slugger tells you that.
    Some guy hates everybody not like himself because he was stopped and questioned in his car a couple of times, but has no empathy whatsoever with a community that was bombed and butchered for 30 plus years.
    The now wildly exaggerated discrimination that went on in NI pre-1969 trumps everything that the provos did after that.

    For Garland and co. to buy into this nonsense of equal legitimacy for multiple truths is just pathetic, too.
    Every propogandistic grievance from the provos and their fellow travellers has just been given equal validity with those of the innocent victims by Garland, Ringland and co.
    Straight out of the evrybody’s guilty and everybody’s a victim handbook.
    If they were determined to do this, could the UUs not have put someone with a bit of wit on this group.

  • geroid

    Some guy hates everybody not like himself because he was stopped and questioned in his car a couple of times,[b] but has no empathy whatsoever with a community that was bombed and butchered for 30 plus years.[/b]

    even a cursory glance through the book lost lives should point out the stupidity of the above statement no one community had a monopoly on suffering.

  • untermenschen

    steroid
    “no one community had a monopoly on suffering”

    Exactly what I told your mate, but he and the great Irish mopery think otherwise and are determined to convince the world.
    Incidentally, check the statistics in Lost Lives and you’ll find that most catholics were killed by their own paramilitary group, the provos.
    So that doesn’t really count on the “monopoly of suffering” guage.
    As well as their overtly sectarian campaign, nearly all home based service people killed by the provos were Protestants.
    So Protestants do actually have a substancial claim to a monopoly on suffering.
    Do the math and I think you’ll find yourself agreeing with me.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    sub-human: “Does that not just reinforce predujice of the “it was all their fault” kind?
    Is the gunman’s truth or the discriminator’s “truth” as equally valid as their victims if they have enough people citing the same “truth”? ”

    Wasn’t that your thesis before? If the majority (i.e. Protestants) all agree, doesn’t that make it right?

    Sub-human: “Not only, the crude argument goes, did we butcher you for decades but now you have to realise it was all your fault.

    Some guy hates everybody not like himself because he was stopped and questioned in his car a couple of times, but has no empathy whatsoever with a community that was bombed and butchered for 30 plus years.
    The now wildly exaggerated discrimination that went on in NI pre-1969 trumps everything that the provos did after that. ”

    Let’s look at this for a minute.

    Protestant abuse of Catholics in what is now N.I. dates back centuries, not decades. While it is not wholly fair that the sons suffer for the sins of their forefathers, neither was the on-going bias and suppression.

    As for that “wildly exaggerated discrimination that went on in NI pre-1969,” let us look at some fairly tame sources… say, the BBC:

    “The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was formed in January 1967 as a response to four decades of Unionist discrimination against Catholics. It had five demands: one man, one vote in council elections; ending of gerrymandering of electoral boundaries; machinery to prevent discrimination by public authorities and to deal with complaints; fair allocation of public housing; repeal of Special Powers Act and disbanding of B Specials, a predominantly Protestant auxiliary police force.”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/war/troubles/origins/nicivil.shtml

    Now, UM, is there anything wildly out of joint on that list?

    What was the Protestant response? Dialogue? Rational debate? Let us see…

    5 October 1968: “The presence of a single camera crew from RTE, the Irish national television station, caught graphic pictures of police brutality as the RUC beat the marchers, including a number of prominent politicians, off the street. The pictures broadcast around the world reminded people of the tactics used by police against the black civil rights movement in America’s southern states. The Catholic community’s confidence in the RUC was further eroded and this seriously undermined the Unionist state.”

    (same URL as above)

    Now, do we see anything familiar here? Something from a previous discussion, perhaps? This just scratches the surface — plenty for you to educate yourself upon, with just a little effort.

  • untermenschen

    Dead Uncouth

    The extreme catholics of the IRA butchered literally thousands of innocent Protestants simply because of their religion.
    Most catholics were killed by the IRA as well.
    Even the rising of 1798 was destroyed because the catholics of Cork led by a firebrand priest started butchering Protestants even though they were United Irishmen as well.
    That taught Protestants a lesson about trusting and trying to work with perfidious Irish catholics.

    Read your history books, uncouth.
    Its all there.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Sub-human: “The extreme catholics of the IRA butchered literally thousands of innocent Protestants simply because of their religion. ”

    Extreme Catholics? What, they were riding mountain bikes and snowboards? The Pope of a street luge?

    sub-human: “Even the rising of 1798 was destroyed because the catholics of Cork led by a firebrand priest started butchering Protestants even though they were United Irishmen as well.
    That taught Protestants a lesson about trusting and trying to work with perfidious Irish catholics.”

    From the BBC: “Henry VIII, who had broken from the Roman Catholic Church over a marital dispute, declared himself King of Ireland and Head of the Church of Ireland in 1542 and presided over the dissolution of the monasteries from which he derived considerable funds for his European wars. Although he was forced to adopt a conciliatory tone with the native Irish chieftains, he paved the way for his daughter Elizabeth I to subjugate Ireland and for the Stuart succession and Cromwell’s Protectorate to colonise the island. With the plantation of Ulster and the Cromwellian land settlement, most of the land in Ireland passed from the native Catholic Irish to the Protestant settlers.”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/war/troubles/factfiles/catholics.shtml

  • Dread Cthulhu

    While we’re at it…

    From the Beeb…

    “The Presbyterian Church took root in 1642 a year after the Scottish army was sent to Ireland to quash a Catholic uprising.

    One of the Church’s first ministers in Northern Ireland identified the Presbyterian community with Jews settling in Israel and being surrounded by hostile people. This sense of insecurity has been a characteristic of Ulster Protestants since the plantation and has contributed to what has been described as their siege mentality. Protestants fear any dilution of their religion and culture.”

    Hmmmmmm… fear of any dilution of their culture… where have we seen that attribute, eh?

  • lib2016

    “One of the Church’s first ministers…”

    I knew he was getting a bit old but….? 😉

  • Shuggie McSporran

    Untermenschen

    Dread Cluthu is spot on. You have to agree.

    We Irish gave you English the gift of literacy and look how you English have ended up abusing that precious gift, by writing interminable long-winded nonsense such as yours on this thread.

    You English will never cease to disapoint.

  • Roy Garland

    One of the central themes in the document “Drawing a Line Under the Past” is the need to foster private honest dialogue. Harsh and painful things can be said in that context without playing to the gallery. In this way we may speak honestly and openly and yet avoid megaphone style diplomacy, which tends to foster the very thing it purports to change. But nothing really changes in that kind of politics. The point should be to heal and to change whereas much that goes for politics here seems to hurt and entrench. Private dialogue opens up new possibilities whereas old style politics ensured that many things stayed in the same old destructive groove.

  • untermenschen

    Sorr Roy, we kind of left that yonks ago we’re now on the potato famine and related grievances from that period we have to get sorted out before we can even begin with the 20th century stuff.

    As a matter of interest though, beyond private conversations, which you have to admit is hardly a new concept, and the pointing out of self-evident truths, is there anything novel in this document?

    How did you and your colleagues arrive at the idea that all “truths” have equal validity?

  • untermenschen

    Shuggie McSporran

    Please refrain from sticking your oar into the history lesson that I am giving to Dead Uncouth.
    He has enough funny ideas without you encouraging him.

  • Alan

    This thread is clear evidence of the truism – *Mope, and the world mopes with you.*

  • Slugger O’Toole Admin

    Indeed Alan. I suspect that in one case at least, judging from the steady deterioration, there may have been strong drink involved last night.

  • Jo

    I think it worth drawing atention to the small but important representation of women in this group.

    A special “well done” to them for putting their heads above the parapet in this way.

  • untermenschen

    “I think it worth drawing atention to the small but important representation of women in this group. A special “well done” to them for putting their heads above the parapet in this way.”

    Putting their heads above the parapet?
    What nonsense!
    They lent their names to a bland set of words.
    They were hardly taking part in an expedition to the heart of Iraq or Afghanistan, for goodness sake.
    It was probably the women who introduced all the soft, meaningless, Oprah Winfrey-type cliches that riddle the document in any case.

    Why should women be singled out anyway?
    Is it more dangerous for women to put their heads “above the parapet”?

  • What WOULD be courageous would be for such a group to categorically condemn all terrorism, to condemn it’s many political proxies and to insist that any future for this land is one free from the taint of UDA/UFV/IRA menace.

    Of course since the UUP has already demonstrated its moral relativism by sitting in an Executive with the IRA’s proxies, and by relying on the votes of the UVF and UDA’s political proxies to ascend into power in the first place, I am reminded of the expression what can you expect from a pig but a grunt when it comes to Vichy Unionism.

    Vapid uberliberal Unionism will also receive a warm welcome from Republican circle, as some comments here demonstrate. That said, I was entertained by the unusal observation that at least “women” were involved in drawing up this risible document. I guess it shows that when it comes to political imbecility, men and women are equal. Equality all round, I guess.

  • truthseeker

    The Sunday Times March 26, 2006
    Ringland risks ire of unionists with demand for victims’ forum
    Carissa Casey

    TREVOR RINGLAND, a former Irish rugby international, could be on a collision course with his colleagues in the Ulster Unionist party after calling for the establishment of a victims’ forum to help those affected by the Troubles.

    Ringland is part of a unionist group that drew up plans for a forum following an invitation by Peter Hain, secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

    The document, Drawing a Line Under the Past, is based on conversations that Ringland and others held with a variety of groups including Coiste, a republican ex-prisoners group.

    Sir Reg Empey, the UUP leader, said the group had acted on its own initiative and that some members of his party might be less than enthusiastic about its work. “The issue about who is a victim and who is not is a very sensitive one,” he said.

    Ringland says that the forum could be established at little cost and with no additional legislation. It would be community based but facilitated by Hain’s office.

    The forum would not seek to establish facts surrounding events but act as a vehicle to allow victims to be heard. “What must be avoided at all costs in this divided society is the presentation of opportunities that could be exploited to rake over the coals of past grievances,” the document states.

    The son of a policeman, who lived in west Belfast until the outbreak of the Troubles, Ringland is one of a number of new faces in the UUP. Capped 34 times for Ireland, he is a former British and Irish Lion and was appointed a spokesman for the party last August.

    Ringland is one of 26 members of the UUP who have held discussions with victims and ex-prisoner groups from both sides of the divide. At a meeting in January, Hain expressed an interest in their views on the victims’ issue and the resulting document was presented to him last week.

    Mike Ritchie of Coiste said unionist acknowledgment that its members had met his organisation was “a welcome step forward”. Ritchie is keen that any forum would be like the South African model, which examined the nature, causes and extent of the conflict.

    “It’s accepted in the international scene that every conflict requires some form of truth recovery as part of the peace process,” Ritchie said. “The problem is we still haven’t agreement as to the causes of the conflict.”

    It has been estimated that a minimum of 6,800 people in Northern Ireland lost a parent or sibling in Troubles-related incidents. Some 3,600 people lost their lives and there were 30,000 serious injuries.
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,176-2103995,00.html

  • Yoda

    Vapid uberliberal Unionism

    I love this sort of hardcore inflammatory but meaningless rhetoric. A sort of Anne Coulter-lite.

    Kudos, Aeolus.

  • Roy Garland

    It usually takes little courage to condemn and normally condemnation does little to change anything.

    It should be noted from the comments of Mike Ritchie above that there is a wide gulf between the Unionist document and the thinking of Coiste. Ritchie says Coiste wants a forum like the South African model, which would examine the nature, causes and extent of the conflict. Those who produced the Unionist document specifically and clearly reject this idea. To have an enquiry into “the nature, causes and extent of the conflict” would take us on a hiding to nowhere and is compared in the document with the Bloody Sunday Enquiry which turned up lots of information but so far, limited light.

    There can be no final verdict on the nature, causes and extent or the intricacies of the conflict. Such an approach would not heal but rather is likely to become a bearpit for re-fighting the tragic conflict albeit hopefully confined to words. The Unionist Group grappled with a means of healing and did not advocate something that might lead to further wounding and conflict. As we also suggest in the document, there can be no single narrative of the conflict that is not tinged with distortion and bias. There are only naratives that include myths and legends. These stories need to be related in each other’s presence because they reflect real pain and real experiences but an objective and detailed account is just not possible. Yet we haven’t ruled out the pursuit of truth as a separate enterprise undertaken by academics and whoever is so inclined. Such an enterprise has its value as long as it is not taken as ‘the truth’ about the conflict.

  • Jo

    Interesting how the response to anything positive – and particularly the involvement of women in progressive political moves – meets with nothing but derision.

    When there is only one show in town, there is usually a comedian or two trying to entertain those happily queuing to see the real show.

    Slugger helps give them a little publicity and that’s to be welcomed. Meantime, the rest of us will get on with positive change and keep our small change for the clowns. 🙂

  • IJP

    Dialogue is generally in itself a good thing.

    However, I think The Watchman, frankly, raises some tough challenges.

    Furthermore, the implicit suggestion seems to be that we deal with the past, or with ‘truth and reconciliation’, as an independent issue.

    I’m not sure this is the suggestion, to be fair, but we need to be careful that it’s not presented in that way. Dealing with the past without at the same time ensuring a more stable and prosperous future, and without seeking to bring people together rather than meekly accept ‘separate but equal’, is simply not going to work.

  • truthseeker

    Coiste may want a forum like the South African model, this does not necessarily mean all these other groups have similar views to Coiste or the UUP group.which said:

    ” We also met with loyalists on the Shankill Road, with members of the SDLP and Alliance as well as with the Official Republican Group, the IRSP and with Ministers of both Governments.  Many of us have worked in other contexts with people from diverse traditions and parties north and south”.

    The very fact all these groups even met with each other is a positive beginning. Agreeing to disagree in a civil manner and be willing to share views in small groups away from the media or TV cameras is a good way forward.

    A top psychologist was very angry when he was once refused entry into an AA meeting. He was told at the door, sorry but we do our own group therapy here and it works.

    Take advise from AA, dont let the smart asses politicians TV , media, or any other circus master who wants to jump on the bandwagon across the door and this just might work.

    I

  • SlugFest

    Daily Ireland had an interesting response piece from Laurence McKeown, an ex-prisoner,republican, hunger striker, member of Coiste, and damn good writer (his book, ‘Irish Republican Prisoners’, is very interesting) …

    “Let’s talk some more

    Laurence McKeown

    27/03/2006

    A statement from, ‘The Unionist Group’ appeared in the press this past week. The group describes itself as made up of members of the Ulster Unionist Party drawn from various constituency associations across the north and representing an informal coming together of members of the party. In their opening paragraph they state that they initially met with members of Coiste na nIarchimí in 2003 and then later with other parties including loyalists, the SDLP, Alliance, Official Republican Movement, the IRSP and ministers of both governments. As a member of the Coiste delegation who met with the group – and continues to meet with them – I can state that the meetings are insightful, sometimes heated, but always good-mannered. When we break for the evening we leave on good terms. The way meetings should be – even between those of very different political persuasions.

    The statement from the group refers to “healing and growth in this society” and a “better understanding within and between all parts of these islands”. It speaks about possible mechanisms for a truth process and has possibly been prompted by the recent television programmes. There also seems to be influences from the Healing through Remembering project which seeks to look at how we can address the legacy of the conflict. There are aspects of the statement I wouldn’t agree with – which is fine. It is clearly a discussion document rather than a statement of policy.

    But it was not so much the content of the statement that interested me. The most significant element of it was that it was a very public declaration that discussions with republican ex-prisoners had taken place – and the individuals involved signed their names to the statement. Any uneasiness I ever felt in engaging with unionists was never about the content of the discussions but the fact that such meetings had to be kept quiet, hidden away, almost secretive.

    People meeting and talking is a very human, social, positive and ultimately productive practice. Unfortunately, all too often, progressive voices within the unionist community have felt the need to constantly look over their shoulders. While it’s crucial to know where you have come from, the problem with looking over your shoulder all the time is that you’re unable to focus on the path ahead – and inevitably end up going around in circles. Hopefully the path ahead, at least for some, is coming more sharply into focus.

    Laurence McKeown was a republican prisoner for 16 years in Long Kesh and spent 70 days on the 1981 hunger strike. He is the author of a doctoral thesis, co-author of the feature film H3 and plays The Laughter of Our Children and A Cold House.”

  • truthseeker

    When a republican like Laurence McKeown states “It is clearly a discussion document rather than a statement of policy.” one only wishes all members of the UUP would look upon the document likewise. We all know what to expect from the DUP.

    LATEST NEWS ARTICLES: DUP Leadership that’s Working! 
     
    UUP DOCUMENT “UTTERLY VAPID AND INSULTING TO VICTIMS”

    DUP Member of the European Parliament, Jim Allister QC has described a recent document produced by leading members of the Ulster Unionist Party as “utterly vapid and insulting to victims”. The document entitled “Drawing a line under the Past” was produced by a collection of UUP members operating under the name “The Unionist Group” and claims to be aimed at addressing victims’ issues.  Jim Allister said:

    “Drawing a line under the Past” is a telling insight into the shallow attitude of some within the Ulster Unionist Party towards the innocent victims of terrorism.  Sponsored by no fewer than 24 UUP members, three of whom are local government representatives, one of whom is a past chairman of the UUP’s Youth Wing and several of whom have party spokesperson portfolios, it is no maverick production.

    Headed up by new Policing Board member, Trevor Ringland, it holds in respect of “the Troubles” that the truth is “subjective”!  There is nothing subjective about the objective fact that vicious IRA and other terrorists, for no justifiable reason, wantonly made victims of thousands of innocent people throughout Northern Ireland.  Yet, amazingly, the representatives of the innocent victims are the very people this UUP group avoided speaking to.  According to their own document, they sought out Coiste na n-Iarchimi, a republican prisoners group, at Clonard Monastery, an Official Republican Group and the IRSP, but they ignored groups like Saver/Naver, West Tyrone Voice and Fair.  Little wonder their document is so out of touch with genuine victims and their needs. It is utterly vapid and indeed insulting to victims for Ringland, Garland and Co’s prime suggestion to be “a common act led by the Sovereign and President” – presumably this is the President of the Republic of Ireland who so gratuitously insulted the entire Protestant population – and the planting of a copse of trees, under which personal histories could be buried, in “shared spaces” in towns and villages throughout Northern Ireland. Is that all the sacrifice of the innocent means to these Ulster Unionists?  I am appalled. Such cliché-ridden stunts might pander to the extreme liberal agenda of the authors of this document, but they do nothing to heal the hurt of the innocent, particularly since its proponents do not even make an adequate distinction between innocent victims and perpetrators.”
    http://www.dup.org.uk/Articles.asp?Article_ID=2141

  • Shuggie McSporran

    Dear all,

    At this stage I would like to point out that truthspeaker is no more a spokesperson for victims than Fair, Coiste na n-Iarchimi or any other self appointed political spokespersons.

  • truthseeker

    The only official spoksperson ( elected politician) I have noticed who has given any official opinion regards this subject on this thread was Jim McMallister DUP MEP in his article on the DUP website titled:
    UUP DOCUMENT “UTTERLY VAPID AND INSULTING TO VICTIMS”

    Which I notice has now been withdrawn for the DUP website, I wonder why?

  • Shuggie McSporran

    Dear all

    I would further like to point out that Jim McAllister’s document “UUP DOCUMENT “UTTERLY VAPID AND INSULTING TO VICTIMS”” is no more representative of the views of victims than any other document published by a political spokesperson, official or otherwise.