Shared future cannot survive endless quarrels over the past…

Trevor Ringland has a letter in the Belfast Telegraph today, in which he argues that understandable contention over the meaning of the past could end up painting everyone into a corner. In particular he argues that a prolonged cold war over who behaved most badly could be corrosive of any new found settlement.

First, the police will police as necessary for whatever type of society we, as a people, decide to have. It is our decision. However, what any police service wants to do is police a normal and peaceful society.

Second, in the debate around collusion, or to give it its proper definition, criminality, police or military organisations can never say that some wrongdoing by members of the organisation did not happen because nothing ever surprises them.

After all, who would have thought that some would have tried to unite the people of Ireland by launching a sectarian campaign against the very people they were trying to unite with? Alternatively, others believed there was such a thing as a Protestant state for a Protestant people, when around 40% of the population are Catholic, or denied the very Irishness of Northern Ireland’s Britishness.

Third, the Police Federation and Retired Police Officers’ Association believe that any person, whether a police officer or not, who is involved in criminality, should be prosecuted. They would argue that the RUC was both pro-active and rigorous in the investigation of such matters, with officers being prosecuted or dismissed where evidence was found. They would also point to the various external inquiries and inspections which found no evidence that collusion was systemic or endemic. They regard any officer who acted in such a manner as having disgraced the organisation they represented and let down those who sought to preserve life and property through difficult times.

Fourth, it is worthwhile recounting a few basic statistics. In the course of duty, the RUC was involved in 52 deaths and the military about 280. Loyalists were responsible for around 900 murders and the republican movement over 2,000 murders.

This included the murders of over 650 military personnel and over 300 RUC members.

Between 1972 and 2001, 10,957 republicans and 8,099 loyalists were charged with terrorist and serious public order offences. Fifty per cent of loyalist murders were solved, as opposed to 30% of those committed by republicans. The unknown statistic is how many thousands of lives were saved by the actions of the security forces, as through intelligence gathering many terrorist attacks were thwarted.

Fifth, while republicans and loyalists pressed buttons to set off bombs and pulled triggers and then left the scene, the men and women of the security forces had to deal with the consequences, sometimes literally having to pick up the pieces.

We would do well to remember that the vast majority of our police and soldiers (numbering tens of thousands over a 35-year period) served gallantly and sacrificed dutifully to try, in very difficult circumstances, to maintain some harmony between our communities.

As a society we have yet to decide how we deal with the past but there are those who use it to try and maintain divisions.

,

  • Henry94

    The general point is right. But then he has to go and spoil it all by arguing for his own view of the past in relation to the British forces.

    Aside from anything else it is a complete contradiction of the point he is trying to make.

    What is important and what I hope we may be able to agree on is that we can neither ignore nor forget the past but that agreement on the past can not be a pre-condition for agreement on the future.

    Nobody should be told that their case has to be ignored or sidelined because it’s bad for the process. It should not be bad for the process. The process should be big enough to deal with it.

  • middle-class taig

    Disappointing:

    “the police will police as necessary”

    Well, query! Not everyone accepts that. Who decides what type of policing is necessary, and on what grounds, and to what agenda?

    “in the debate around collusion, or to give it its proper definition, criminality,”

    Well, yes and no. The issue around collusion is the level of official sanction and approval the relevant criminal acts enjoyed. In other words, is collusion how the British fought the war?

    “sectarian campaign”

    a shining example of the power of outreach, and “constructive leadership to help in the reconciliation and building of trust”.

    “police or military organisations can never say that some wrongdoing by members of the organisation did not happen because nothing ever surprises them”

    Is that meant to be an acknowledgement of collusion? Or even that republicans are entitled to raise concerns on collusion? It’s possibly the most begrudging acknowledgement I’ve ever read.

    “They would argue that the RUC was both pro-active and rigorous in the investigation of such matters, with officers being prosecuted or dismissed where evidence was found.”

    Aye. They would.

    “the RUC was involved in 52 deaths and the military about 280”

    You see, I missed the international public inquiry which concluded that that was how many deaths resulted from collusion.

    BTW interesting distinction between “deaths” and “murders”!

    “any person, whether a police officer or not, who is involved in criminality, should be prosecuted.”

    OK. Progress. In passing, what’s that guy’s name in North Belfast? Type of fish! Can’t remember!

    “We would do well to remember that the vast majority of our police and soldiers (numbering tens of thousands over a 35-year period) served gallantly and sacrificed dutifully to try, in very difficult circumstances, to maintain some harmony between our communities.”

    Yes, a view shared universally by all in the North. Why doesn’t he encourage the republican community to understand that this is how unionists see it? Stating it as fact attracts attention to the beam in his own eye.

    Small step? Giant leap needed, methinks.

  • Bemused

    Dear, oh dear, oh dear….what Trevor seems to be saying in essence is:-

    “Let’s stop arguing about who behaved worst during the Troubles – that could be corrosive to civil society. By the way, did I happen to mention that Republicans behaved worst during the Troubles and that the Crown forces were generally a great bunch of lads?”

    Oops.

  • BeardyBoy

    Sure who cares – it is a non starter – there is not a shared future in “Northern Ireland” – there is one in a United Ireland so let him blether on as much as he wants

  • Diluted Orange

    Beardy Boy – A shared future in a United Ireland? Not for Unionists with attitudes like these towards a letter, which if the general manner was adopted by most of our politicians, I think would make Northern Ireland a much better place. But then we never really figured in the IRA’s plan for a united Ireland did we?

    Generally I see the following view-point expressed by the comments here: Republican rampage and sectarian murder (never mind murder of innocent Catholics too) is alright and was justified but the actions of the security forces in acting against them was not. I accept that not all police and army personnel acted in good faith but the vast majority were decent people trying to do a very difficult job.

    What do you expect to come from inquiries anyway, except for a big waste of money which would be better spent on public services etc? There are only going to be 2 outcomes of any inquiry on collusion:

    a) Police collusion not found or found just to be in a very small number of cases. The reaction will be Nationalists dismissing it as nonsense, saying there has been a cover up and demand more inquiries to be held. Unionists say, “I told you so.”

    b) Police collusion found to be widespread. Reaction: Nationalists go ape and more and more tribunals and inquiries are launched (will people ever be brought to account?). Unionists dismiss it as nonsense and want another inquiry opened.

    Does either outcome achieve anything positive?

  • BeardyBoy

    the outcome may be as you say – I am pointing out that there is no shared future with a border dividing us, it gives one set of people a concrete to attack and the other one to defend, remove it and we start a debate about ideas and philosophies which will not require guns.

    The border is a catalyst for trouble

  • oop

    if i was a nationalist
    (which i am not)
    i would question the wisdom
    of trying to unite ireland
    without uniting northern ireland
    first

  • George

    The shared future can survive endless quarrels over the past.

    The Republic’s Civil War saw pretty well saw the same amount of deaths in one year that Northern Ireland saw in the 30 years post 1969.

    Quarrels went on for decades but everyone knew their future was shared.

    If there was a shared future there wouldn’t be a problem. The wounds would eventually heal like they have south of the border.

    The problem with Northern Ireland is that the Civil War is over and both sides still think they will have different futures.

  • Mick Fealty

    George,

    “…the Civil War is over and both sides still think they will have different futures”.

    The civil war is over for most, but I think what Trevor is on about here is the Cold War against the Unionist community that Mitchel McLaughlin let slip earlier last year. The fate of Pat Ramsey in the Bogside suggests it is not quite over there either.

    That’s not to say that people should have their case ignored or sidelined for the greater good of a supposedly fragile process. What I thought most noteable about this piece was how it calls attention to the absence of the voice of the Police and their families is from this kind of debate.

    Cops in any society (peaceful or otherwise) see things that the rest of us don’t (and don’t want to). They are rarely thanked by anyone, but used by most in their hour of need. Even in the heart of the Falls in the midst of the troubles they were given a bye by the IRA to collect information on insurance claims – though even that dispensation was used to entrap more than once.

    Many have internalised stories of the darkest side of human behaviour, regardless of political connotations. I cannot see why they should not be free to tell it like they see it.

  • Greenflag

    OOP< 'if i was a nationalist (which i am not) i would question the wisdom of trying to unite ireland without uniting northern ireland first' Trying to unite the people of Northern Ireland in the present 6 county state is like trying to unite an apple and an orange . It cannot be done .The political and constitutional divide between Irish Republicans/Nationalists and British Unionism is simply too great and 40 years of sectarian division and lack of political movement have made a permanent impact on the divisions within NI and between the North East and the rest of Ireland . Regardless of the extent of cultural similarities or differences between both sectarian communities in Northern Ireland the basic political difference in aspirations has not gone away and neither will it ever.It has taken almost 40 years to even get to the present point with the two main political parties still not agreeing on power sharing . Any future Assembly will be forever subject to 'suspension' by HMG whenever one side or the other feels their 'aspirations' are being slighted. It makes more political sense to unite the 'Irish 'people of Ireland North and South and those who aspire to be 'politically ' Irish and to leave those who wish to remain British in a smaller two county sized Northern Ireland State following a fair repartition of Northern Ireland carried out by a neutral international Agency such as the UN or EU . Trevor Ringland's article is basically right . It's time to move on past the 'past. But Northern Ireland as it presently exists cannot move on until such time as the State itself is dissolved or repartitioned in a way that makes any future Northern Ireland State a democratically viable entity . The answer to the question of 'Who polices the 'police ' ' is one which goes to the very heart of building a viable democracy in any State . The RUC despite the efforts of many of it's former officers could never be seen as anythng other than the 'paramilitary' wing of the Ulster Party by a very large section of the Irish Nationalist and Republican Community in Northern Ireland . The saddest aspect of the present 'impasse' in NI is that those who are calling for 'moving on ' to a new Assembly are in truth not moving anywhere .

  • Greenflag

    George,

    ‘If there was a shared future there wouldn’t be a problem. The wounds would eventually heal like they have south of the border.’

    True.

    ‘The problem with Northern Ireland is that the Civil War is over and both sides still think they will have different futures.’

    True again . However the people of Northern Ireland can share their ‘different ‘ politcal and economic futures following a fair ‘repartition ‘ of the present non politcally or economically viable 6 county State.

    The future will ‘happen’ anyway.

  • Aaron McDaid

    Trevor tries to pretend he wants to let bygones be bygones, but insists on getting the last word and throw in a few lies into his epitaph of the Troubles.

    Ringland: After all, who would have thought that some would have tried to unite the people of Ireland by launching a sectarian campaign against the very people they were trying to unite with?

    Who would they be? I guess he’s trying to refer to the IRA. Well, OK then, some sectarian people did infiltrate republican organisations, just as sectarian people infiltrated the security services. They should have been court-martialled and expelled/executed as war traitors. I believe there was much such internal discipline with the IRA often in great distress trying to decide what to do about the sectarianism within. The reality is that most of the IRA were 100% genuinely fighting to free all Irish people (regardless of religion or politics) from the strife caused by the London government. Maybe they got it wrong, maybe they failed, but their intentions were good.

    The problem though is those sections of unionism which have the nerve to paint all supporters of, and participants in, military rebellion as sectarian. No matter what your politics, this statement is simply factually incorrect – end of story.

    Trevor then goes on to analyse the statistics of the troubles and again draws nonsense conclusions:

    the RUC was involved in 52 deaths and the military about 280. Loyalists were responsible for around 900 murders and the republican movement over 2,000 murders.

    So what? Germany lost more soldiers than the UK during WW2. Anyway, most of those 2000 deaths were British Army. Most of the loyalist killings were civilian. Note, according to Trevor, the British military were only involved in ‘deaths’ – Irish paramilitary forces were engaged in ‘murders’ – funny that.

    Diluted Orange (giving us him impression of republicanism): ‘Republican rampage and sectarian murder (never mind murder of innocent Catholics too) is alright and was justified but the actions of the security forces in acting against them was not.’

    Just like Trevor Ringland, you are presupposing that the republican movement was sectarian. He may well find that active IRA members were the least sectarian people within republicanism or nationalism. Why is it that a person who puts his/her life on the line by joining the RUC or Army is sanctified, while putting their life on the line for the opposition is sectarian?

    I have no difficulty in 100% condemning any person taking part in sectarianism. They are always my enemy, even if many of them pretend to be on my side. They are absolute scum and the fact that some call themselves republican and nationalist probably just makes me more sick, not less.

    But some unionists and indeed nationalists insist on telling the lie that republicanism was 100% sectarian and that the state forces had only tiny fraction of bad apples. The reality was that a lot of genuine people and a lot of bad people joined every organisation. The precise stats of whether a given organisiation was 20,30 or 80% bad is an argument for anyother day, but Ringland needs to accept that republicanism had just as many genuine people wanting peace and justice as anyone in the British Army and RUC. Anything less just seems like more childish rewriting of history.

    Even more important though, is that even if the republican military organisations were every bit as bad as portrayed, the reality is that totally innocent people were hurt by the British state. Withholding justice from any innocent party, simply in order to politically undermine some politician or other, is not the behaviour of any legitimate government.

    Does the average person in NI deserve to be characterized by the (alleged) behaviour of these organizations – organisations which only numbered a few thousand altogether?

    If unionists are going to discriminate against nationalists on the grounds of IRA behaviour, they have no option but to also discriminate against unionists on the grounds of IRA behaviour. To do otherwise is to be sectarian. [Yes, my last few sentences are as I intended.]

  • Greenflag

    Aaron,
    The State of Northern Ireland was based on a sectarian headcount. You can’t blame the ‘people’ for being ‘sectarian’ . It goes with the territory. When you try to’lock up ‘ two opposing constitutional aspirations in a small area like Northern Ireland in which neither has an overwhe,ming majority then you can expect ‘sectarian ‘ and similar behaviour. It will always be so as long as the present State of NI exists.

    As for the average person in NI ? Like it or not the ‘average’ person votes for ‘sectarian ‘ parties whether they call themselves that or not is immaterial given the political realities on the ground in NI.

    ‘Ringland needs to accept that republicanism had just as many genuine people wanting peace and justice as anyone in the British Army and RUC.’

    Whether he does or not is immaterial . That has been the case in Ireland anyway since the Act of Union was passed by a corrupt, unelected, bribed and degenerate parliament in 1801 . NO British Government has any right to be in Ireland anyway notwithstanding the present reality of the situation in NI.

  • skinbop

    Trevor Ringland – great Irish rugby player and himself injured by an IRA bomb.

    Aaron McDaid – wannabe wordsmith, terrible at logic and math.

    “Trevor then goes on to analyse the statistics of the troubles and again draws nonsense conclusions:

    the RUC was involved in 52 deaths and the military about 280. Loyalists were responsible for around 900 murders and the republican movement over 2,000 murders.”

    So what were the nonsense conclusions again?
    Read your own conclusion.

  • Aaron McDaid

    skinbop,
    Which conclusion of mine are you concerned with? I’m grateful of any constructive criticism, but you obviously aren’t trying to be helpful.

    I simply highlighted many examples of double standards and ignorance of the facts in Trevor’s article.

    You suggest that rugby players have more right to speak that non-rugby players. I don’t buy that. Everybody has a right to an opinion as long as they are ready to discuss it fully – you for example won’t expand on your childish points.

    My final paragraph was as I intended. Can you clarify that it is that paragraph you are confused by? Am I really so mad for thinking that the average citizen shouldn’t be characterized by the behaviour of small military organisations? I repeat again my own point “If unionists are going to discriminate against nationalists on the grounds of IRA behaviour, they have no option but to also discriminate against unionists on the grounds of IRA behaviour. To do otherwise is to be sectarian.” and vice-versa of course.

    skinbop, do you want to help the debate or just make content free jibes?

  • skinbop

    AMD – “Am I really so mad for thinking that the average citizen shouldn’t be characterized by the behaviour of small military organisations?”

    Said “small military organizations” were supported in many ways by the average citizen, either financially or through silence. You have the logical mind but your statement defies logic my friend.

    In conclusion AMD=MAD. QED.

  • skinbop

    The problem with posts like yours AMD, apart from the fact they are too long and difficult to follow is that you include certain portions of the letter as a “reference” as if to illustrate the point. e.g.,

    < >

    What you have written makes no sense – where is the conclusion – should i read the letter again or can you copy and paste the applicable portion to illustrate your point?

  • Aaron McDaid

    My problem with that sentence is that Ringland said that as if it proved that republicans were worse because they killed more people. I then pointed out that the WW2 stats would show Germany as the good guy if you look at those stats in such a simplistic way.

    If anything, I am against the simplistic logic you seem to think I believe in. Behind every simple fact or statistic is a more complicated story. The more I learn about history, I find my opinions becoming more complex and subtle, not less so. I’m just annoyed at Ringland’s gross simplicity. The history of Northern Ireland is more complicated than Ringland makes out. I’m not expecting everyone to agree, just that it’s time to remove some of the more simplistic ideas from the debate.

  • skinbop

    Sorry Aaron, maybe I just don’t have the intellect to figure out what you are saying. Too complex and subtle perhaps?

  • Mick Fealty

    It may be partly my fault for pasteing the section of his letter that I did. Here is how he starts:

    I note that a revised edition of the book Lost Lives is to be published shortly (Belfast Telegraph, January 11). It will prove to be a timely reminder to us all of the consequences of a politics that creates division rather than building a genuinely shared society.

    While we share our history, we do not necessarily agree on it, but surely it is vital that we learn its lessons and put into practice that which works and avoid repeating that which fails.

    In Northern Ireland, the last few years have created an opportunity for us to come out of the trenches into which too many of us climbed during the last 40 years.

    How much worse would it have been without the brave people in the community who kept building bridges while others were destroying them, and also for the men and women who served in the security forces, but for whose actions a civil war would have erupted?

    On reflection perhaps I should have put the whole thing in, but I thought his robust defence of the old RUC was unusually strong, and remarkably uncommonplace in a debate that mostly veers from villification to dismisiveness.

    Tomorrow Nuala O’Loan will publish her report into RUC collusion with Mount Vernon UVF. That is right and proper. People like Raymond McCord have fought a long hard battle in public and in private to have that report instigated, and to keep the public spotlight on an issue others would rather see swept under the carpet. It will also be a trigger for an stream of anti RUC invective, in which the whole force is seen as criminals for the activities of some of its members.

    It seems to me that Trevor is simply ‘telling it like it is’ from his perspective (he signs off as a Policeman’s son, not as a politician, or an ex rugby player). Some were undoubtedly behind the various collusion projects with Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries. No one will look good if/when the whole truth emerges.

    But whilst all this was going on, most went on filling in insurance forms, directing traffic, investigating burglaries, civil murder and rapes. And, when the time came, searching for the heads of bodies decapitated by terrorist (and I use the word advisedly) bombs.

    He finishes the letter thus:

    We would do well to remember that the vast majority of our police and soldiers (numbering tens of thousands over a 35-year period) served gallantly and sacrificed dutifully to try, in very difficult circumstances, to maintain some harmony between our communities. As a society we have yet to decide how we deal with the past but there are those who use it to try and maintain divisions.

    Deliberately or by accident they will create a situation in which we repeat the cycle of violence which Ireland has shown a tendency to return to every 20 to 30 years. Others wish to ensure it never happens again. Surely the greatest tribute that we can pay those who suffered or died is to ensure we learn the lessons of the past so the mistakes never happen again.

    The war is over, but the people require constructive leadership to help in the reconciliation and building of trust necessary to undo the damage of the past and build a better future for all of us and our children.

  • Henry94

    I think most people in the RUC must have had some idea what was going on. The collusion was too systematic and widespread for even the dullest policeman to be unaware of it.

    News travels through organisations in both formal and informal ways. It wasn’t as if loyalists kept it a secret.

    No doubt there were some decent people in the Black ‘n’ Tans too but by staying in a discredited force and by playing down the reality of the nature of that force they would be optimistic to expect victims and victim communities to take them seriously.

    Using statistics about deaths in the troubles to make partizan points is something we should avoid. (I must declare that I have done so in the past not anymore) It’s too subjective to be useful.

    We simply don’t know how many loyalist murders were RUC connected or RUC facilitated.

    We don’t know if deaths caused by Police and MI5 agents within paramilitary groups should be blamed on the groups themselves or the agents employers.

    We may never get answers to those questions.

  • Aaron McDaid

    skinbop,
    I suppose I’ve lost my point by being a bit arrogant and so on. Sorry about that. I think I’ll sign off this thread.