“it requires a belief that truth is a value in itself”

A well-argued CommentisFree contribution from Fintan O’Toole on the need for the Eames/Bradley committee [and everyone else – Ed] to take the bull by the horns – which they should.

Because conflict has been underpinned by selective remembering in which grief becomes grievance, it is foolish to believe that if we ignore the recent past it will go away. In the Irish experience, both nationalists and unionists have been all too adept at constructing versions of the past in which they feature only as victims, never as victimisers. There is every reason to believe that, without a serious collective attempt to deal with the legacy of the Troubles, it too will be assimilated into competing tribal myths.

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  • I hardly think an ecumenical cleric ( whom some have alleged to be in the pocket of the government) and an ex Jesuit priest will provide a serious analysis of our recent history. Both will approach the task with a very definite ecumenical agenda.

  • Aquifer

    Well called Fintan. People here carry their selective memories around like charm bracelets, little tribal tokens to shield them from their own mental complicity in aggression and cruelty.

    Christian clerics why not. Many of their flocks fail on forgiveness, so lets have a refresher course.

  • jpeters


    with respect to your position (im taking your word you are a man of the cloth) but you comment is loaded with your obivous dislike for the ecumenical agenda so i dont think your seeing the essential truth of the lead quote, it is by the way absolutely correct by the way.

    the event that is described in the link is an example of a one sided view of the history of the troubles as is in fact your comment at the foot of it

  • parcifal

    our hearts need to be like a church with wide open doors

  • fair_deal

    “it is foolish to believe that if we ignore the recent past it will go away”

    It may be equally as foolish to think that folk memory can be overcome by official attempts to construct a common narrative.

  • lib2016

    Silly attempt to manage the foundation myth of whatever kind of state Ireland eventually becomes. Far to early and as FD says it will eventually be decided on by the people rather than by failed intellectuals like Fintan.

  • Mick Fealty


    “…failed intellectuals like Fintan.”

    Would you mind explaining what on earth this has to do with anything? Ball, not man!

  • Mick Fealty

    Sorry for cross posting this, but it was written partly in response to Fintan’s piece and Myers’ rendering from the other day:

    If, as I have argued elsewhere, a case can be made that the price paid for this Process™ was right, it cannot be said that there was not considerable (mostly private) price paid for it. Even if it is for the common good, the mutual agreement to leave the truth buried in a stainless steel lead lined bunker will hurt some individuals and communities, even as it sets society at large to get on with other things other than mutual loathing. As O’Toole says above, full rapprochement with the past requires a belief that truth is a value in itself”. Or as we put in A Long Peace, some four years ago:

    Turning to the future cannot mean burying the past. As John Dunlop warns us, ‘It would be callous for a community to travel into the future and leave grieving people behind.’ The greatest tribute to those who have suffered, however, is to build on their sacrifices.

    Another thing that is common in substance is, if not in style between O’Toole and Myers (as I see it) is the propensity of both sides for crafting “versions of the past in which they feature only as victims, never as victimisers”. And can anyone say they don’t see huge inconsistencies in the way each of the projects have expressed their aims, and chosen their instruments?

    It may have been necessarily thus. Or it may not.

  • The Penguin

    “…failed intellectuals like Fintan.”

    Though I have no idea what constitutes a ‘failed’ intellectual – or how in fact you fail at being one – presumably this critique could only be put forward by a successful one.

  • lib2016

    Nah! Fintan has failed spectacularly and very publicly in his attempt to propagate a version of socialism which excludes the national identity.

    As one of the millions of very ordinary people who form the Irish nation I feel totally entitled to point that out.

    BTW Just like being a unionist, being a ‘failed intellectual’ doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Fintan makes no secret of the fact that he is intent on propagating his ideas, indeed he makes his living that way. Surely his lack of success is relevent to any discussion of those ideas?

  • The Penguin

    Lack of success at what?
    Propogating his ideas?

    I would argue he has been very successful. Now whether he has actually propogated an idea that is his own, or tuned into a national mood, is debatable but largely irrelevant.

    Fintan a socialist, or believes himself to be one? I don’t think so.
    He is actually left-liberal which is the predominate mood in the 26 counties, and a growing inclination in the other 6.

    IMO, Fintan writes extremely well and reflects a national mood that he helped form, that has to be guaged as successful by anyone’s standards.

    Lib, be honest, you just don’t like him because he has always be strongly anti-physical force republicanism.
    No harm in that, it doesn’t make you a bad person – however, it has helped colour your view of Fintan and led you, in this instance, to be very wrong.

  • Dewi

    Could the committee expand its remit to consider the famine ? – Sorry – having a bad day !

  • lib2016

    The Penguin,

    Rather than get into interminable arguments about what a ‘socialist’ is, or for that matter whether a liberal is defined by his social or economic ideas, let’s just say that Fintan is ‘on the Left’.

    The South has an extreme rightwing government returned for a third term while Labour support ‘flatlines’ and you reckon that Fintan has been successful in propagating his tired ‘Sticky’ influenced ideas? Jesus wept!

  • Rory

    Let us examine the premise of what is being argued:

    “it is foolish to believe that if we ignore the recent past it will go away”

    Not so. The past by very definition has already “gone away”. Memories of it will not have have – which is I suppose what he meant.

    But it cannot follow that that is “Because conflict has been underpinned by selective remembering “ much less that it is predicated by that selective memory.

    But, quite apart from that essential confusion, I have to agree with Fair Deal that selective memory will continue to colour remembrance of the past and it is unlikely that an impartial universally accepted “truth” of that past will ever emerge. It may well be however that a well propagandised “truth” may become dominant for a while among those who were not affected or are merely “visitors” to the history of that past.

    I suspect, for example, that O’Toole believes that he knows the absolute truth of a given event in his experience of the past much as I hold to my belief in my memory of my experience in other events. Are these then “true”?

    I cannot see what will be gained outside of some hopelessly pious dream of public confession and genuine expression of remorse and attempt at reparation by guilty parties. Remember Archbishop Tutu’s hamfisted and embarrassing attempt to recreate a South African style Truth and Reconciliation television show? Now that is a past event much too painful to recall and, to be kind to His Grace, best forgotten.

    Better I think to let the past be what it is, simply that and devote our energies to now that when now becomes past the memories of this time will be uplifting.

    Dewi makes a good point about the Famine. If we return to examine the past then we must continually return again and again to examine it in the light of each new uncovered portion of “evidence”. As Harry Flashman and others have demonstrated on that issue on the “Londonderry” thread, whatever the evidence, when it comes to political posturing there is never a concensus of “truth”.

    The clergymen might consider best that most enigmatic of utterances attributed in the Gospels to Jesus, the Christ, “Let the dead bury the dead”.

  • The Penguin

    “…has an extreme rightwing government returned for a third term…”

    Extreme right-wing in comparison to what?

    Where is the left and right anymore? Everybody, including the present government, is crowded onto the middle ground.

    Surely you aren’t trying to infer that SF are a leftist party? They, like everybody else, have no real ideological bottom line, but blow like a flag with the breeze of the latest surveys and opinion polls. Their economic volte face at election time proved that, if proof were ever needed. In this, I repeat, they are no diferenet than the others.

    Fintan, fits neatly into the prevailing mood of tolerance and broadmindedness. A mood, I might add, that comes easily to any society with high public prosperity, but one that can vanish quickly when an economic downturn begins to bite and scapegoats are required.

    The only real question is whether Fintan, assisted in no small part by an economic upturn, helped create that mood, or whether he just follows and helps sustain it.
    I think, for the greater part, the former.

  • The Penguin

    ‘“it is foolish to believe that if we ignore the recent past it will go away”

    Not so. The past by very definition has already “gone away”. Memories of it will not have have – which is I suppose what he meant.’


    Yes, I think it’s safe to assume that O’Toole doesn’t have a time machine or thinks that any of the rest of us have one either, so it is a fair guess that “remembered” past is what he meant.

    Excusable, as well, for him to assume that most people would realise what he meant without him having to spell it out.

  • Pete Baker

    fair deal

    It’s not about “official attempts to construct a common narrative.”

    It’s about the opposite in many ways – seeking the detail of what happened, to whom, by whom, and the reasoning, however misguided, behind it.

    There are still a number of people, on all sides, who have access to, and/or direct knowledge of, that level of detail.

    That’s not a “hopelessly pious” objective, although as Fintan acknowledges – “Finding a way to do this is hard for the same reasons that it is necessary”.

    But it should be the objective.

  • Mick Fealty


    “being a ‘failed intellectual’ doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.”

    Absolutely right. Trouble is, you have completely failed to address, never mind prove, the point you raise.

    As the Penguin says: “presumably this critique could only be put forward by a successful one”.

    To do that you certainly don’t need to come up to the standards legally required of an ‘expert witness’ in the court system. But at the very least you should seek to give us some explicit reason to take what you say seriously.

    So far, it would appear, you have signally failed to do so.

  • bpower

    Wow, Mick links to a self describing liberal commentator. I guess we can expect half a dozen links to the extreme right over the next few weeks. Fair ‘an balanced baby.

  • Rory

    “being a ‘failed intellectual’ doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.”.

    I dunno about that. I failed and I’m often very bad indeed. At least that’s what Herself says.

  • The Penguin


    I might disagree with you on many things, then again I might not, but either way I salute your sense of humour.

  • fair_deal


    “the detail of what happened, to whom, by whom, and the reasoning, however misguided, behind it. There are still a number of people, on all sides, who have access to, and/or direct knowledge of, that level of detail.”

    Does detail offer anything in particular?
    To whom by whom? Intelligence documents say one thing, the people named deny it. Are we any further forward?

    There are no means to ensure their participation or that reasonings etc won’t be presented in a self-serving manner or to perpetuate the myths you would desire it to overcome.

  • lib2016


    I’m so glad you played the ball and not the man.


  • lib2016

    The huge over-reaction by Mick and the tomfoolery of ‘Penguin’ shook me quite a bit in that it was such obvious nonsense.

    It was interesting therefore to come across the item in the Irish Times today (Thur. 26th July) quoting the CoI Bishop of Dublin minimising his church’s involvement with the OO and regretting Eame’s involvement in the Drumcree fiasco.

    When will unionists realise that they would be better to be candid about the fact that their community was not only well aware of Britain’s ‘dirty war’ but strongly backed it to such an extent that reasonable nationalists regarded them as being complicit in it?

    The UDA didn’t suddenly become baddies in 1992 and the British Army has been up to no good right around the world for hundreds of years. No-one is going to suddenly decide now that it was the fault of Irish republicans all along….not in Europe, not in the emergent democracies around the world and certainly not in America.

    This is not, in Fintan’s words, a question of ‘competing tribal myths’. It’s a fundamental disagreement about aggressive colonialism versus democracy.