“Justice is the glue that holds society together.”

If Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy doesn’t get quoted as often as it used to it may be because “the longed for tidal wave of justice” is noticeable mostly by its absence. And, via Newshound, Michael Goldfarb in the International Herald Tribune argues that one lesson the Middle East could learn from here is that “The price of conjuring peace out of conflict is that justice is not done; most crimes go unpunished.” He might be right. After all, as Michael Longley said, “peace is the absence of war: the opposite of war is custom, customs, and civilization.” But anyone seeking lessons from here should also beware the poisonous foundations left behind.. and the blindness that such a Process™ demands.

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  • Nevin

    A Troy metaphor for here, if not a cure: a smelly abscess that would not heal?

  • parci

    cheer up peteb, these legendary dirges are so depressing. And now there’s the TUV to join for an outlet. I’m sure McAllister would welcome you with open arms!

  • Rory

    We first must recognise that an essential precondition of having a peace that, in Michael Longley’s phrase, “is the opposite of war” which he defines as “custom, customs and civilisation” is that we first have peace itself – “the absence of war”.

    This we have, admittedly with great difficulty, much truculence and quite a deal of soul searching and the application of modesty and, yes, courage, somewhat more than tentatively achieved.

    In order for the peace which is “the opposite of war” to develop we must cherish and nurture the “absence of war” in order to allow it to grow and to that end we need be ceaselessly vigilant to counter those voices which, whether through malice or misguidance, would harken back to the days of mayhem and murder.

    It is not necessary for Paisley and McGuinness to be saints nor would it be helpful to attempt to portray either or both as a plaster saint like that sad image into which Nelson Mandela has been projected. It is enough that they hold the line for peace as “no war” until peace as custom and civilisation can prevail. And if that nurturing needs watering with a measure of hypocrisy then I for one am in favour of supplying as many barrels of the stuff as is needed.

  • susan

    Your post reminds me of a poem, Rory.


    I do not want to be reflective any more
    Envying and despising unreflective things
    Finding pathos in dogs and undeveloped handwriting
    And young girls doing their hair and all the castles of sand
    Flushed by the children’s bedtime, level with the shore.

    The tide comes in and goes out again, I do not want
    To be always stressing either its flux or its permanence,
    I do not want to be a tragic or philosophic chorus
    But to keep my eye only on the nearer future
    And after that let the sea flow over us.

    Come then all of you, come closer, form a circle,
    Join hands and make believe that joined
    Hands will keep away the wolves of water
    Who howl along our coast. And be it assumed
    That no one hears them among the talk and laughter.

    Louis Macneice

  • Rory

    While appreciating the poem, Susan, yet wincing slightly that my comments were the inspiration for your recall, I can understand, if not relish, the link you make. Yet consider, please, this: it was in their zealotry that these former antagonists displayed their vulpine nature, their hypocrisy gentles them and slowly gentles the community towards “custom, customs and civilisation”.

    I appreciate that it means that many may never have justice yet justice is elusive in all societies where the strong rule the weak – which is all societies – and at least in the peace of “no war” there can begin to be a lack of victims for whom justice needs be demanded, recent isolated killings notwithstanding.

    Now, just to cheer myself up, I shall just recite to my grand daughter “The Fiddler of Dooney” with whom I would much prefer to be compared.

    For the good are always the merry,
    Save by an evil chance
    And the merry love the fiddle
    And the merry love to dance

  • susan

    Rory, they should put that verse on your mass card — many, many, many decades from now, I hope and pray, I hasten to add.

    I fear you may have interpreted the Macniece poem as a slap at you, which is wasn’t. I cannot imagine wielding a Louis MacNiece poem as a weapon, I’m too fond of the melancholy bastard. Nor was I thinking of Maguinness and Paisley as wolves. At their age and experience I well believe they have stood over enough funerals of the wolf-ravaged remains of young men that they could never wish to see another one.

    I think what was in my mind was that while I agree with you “a measure of hypocrisy” is most often the lesser of the available evils, the message needs to ring out from the leadership of the largest parties on down that peace over the dead bodies of young men — the Paul Quinns, Michael McILveens, the Thomas Devlins, to name the first three that come to mind — is no longer on the agenda. A small toll compared to the toll in Iraq, true, but enormous within the small, sleepless households of the bereaved. When the various leaders howl together like the wolves they once were for justice for young men who mean nothing at all in the vast scheme of things but everything to the few who knew them, that will be a day to see.

    If that makes any sense.

  • Rory

    Oh it does indeed make sense, Susan. A lot of sense and I do agree that foul murder must no longer be tolerated from whatever quarter it comes. It follows that the political leaders must not only be loud in its condemnation but must be strenuously proactive in rooting out the perpetators and those who harbour them.

    And if they do that I will gladly join hands with them and dance to that tune which drives away the wolves in a place which no longer holds a welcome for them nor allows them to hunt with impunity.

  • Dewi

    Wonderful to read such poignant posts – Susan and Rory – you must try and write poetry yourselves.

  • Pete Baker

    While I have mentioned this before, it’s probably worth repeating.

    We are already in the ‘absence of war’ scenario – some years beyond 1998.

    And that means we are, currently, setting down the customs for dealing with each other as described by Michael Longley.

    The danger is that the repeated excusing of ‘blindness’ in relation to certain crimes – where there are particular party-political concerns – becomes the custom.

  • Pete Baker

    Actually make that

    “The danger is that the repeated excusing of ‘blindness’ [and the application of measures of hypocrisy] in relation to certain crimes – where there are particular party-political concerns – becomes the custom.”

  • parci

    disagree peteb, there are one or two very disturbing examples which are rightly receiving the outcry and media attention they deserve; but in the main we are many times better off than ever before; so what’s needed here is perspective, and I hasten to add: seeing the bigger picture.

  • Jo

    Lovely poem Susan.
    Jo (I Wonder)

  • Jo

    “at least in the peace of “no war” there can begin to be a lack of victims ”

    And also, Pete, this is a phrase worth repeating. I think many have had enough of “principles” that leave many peoploe, apart from those enunciating them, bleeding in the gutter.

  • Pete Baker

    “And also, Pete, this is a phrase worth repeating. I think many have had enough of “principles” that leave many peoploe, apart from those enunciating them, bleeding in the gutter.”

    I’m not sure where you’ve got those quotations from, but..

    Yeah. That’s my argument in a nutshell.

    *shakes head*

  • Jo

    Pete, I was agreeing with you. Not a universal response, I think you might agree.

    I think *nods head* is an appropriate response. 🙂

  • Danny O’Connor

    Unity of Irish people is a much greater aspiration than unity of territory.You cannot force your aspirations on another person and win their heart-Britain tried -it didn’t work then,and it won’t work now -no matter who else tries.Connolly said “Ireland without it’s people is nothing to me”.All of the territory of the 32 counties is not worth the loss of 1 life, Catholic Protestant or dissenter.You cannot say you love your country and hate your countrymen.

  • Rubicon

    It’s quite possible that the lesson from this Process is that the wrongs done in the past are left unaddressed and the victims left pay the price. I doubt such a package can be (or would have been) sold if described in such terms and consequently, wouldn’t recommend such an approach to the Middle East – unless done in private to the protagonists of conflict.

    Is that enough moral blindness to achieve peace elsewhere?

    There’s an unfortunate consequence of moral blindness – it isn’t something that seems to be easy to turn off and it doesn’t bring about enlightenment in a way that unites (as Danny aspires to) nor does it set firm foundations for ‘civilisation’.

    Perhaps it’s just too early to say and the Oxbridge approach to history needing to be more than 50 years old before it becomes worth studying might be the best approach. However, if the absence of war paid for by its victims is a necessary condition for peace then the list of victims should cease. It has slowed but “they haven’t gone away you know”.

    At this point the process seems to have generated a class of victim for whom justice will be denied. This denial occurs less at a state level than within communities and by ‘the people’ themselves.

    So – for NI’s process to have saleable value elsewhere – it’s less the protagonists of conflict that need to buy in – the difficulty is persuading the people in general to be politically expedient in their expectations for justice. Since conflicts are sustained through a belief in a prevailing injustice this expediency may be difficult inculcate in conflict societies. It’s not impossible though – as NI seems to demonstrate.

    Despite the “absence of conflict” having begun some 10 years ago it’s still way too early before the NI process can be packaged for export. The process is on-going for as long as we still add to the list of politically expedient victims.

  • Nevin

    “You cannot force your aspirations on another person”

    Danny, I think Hume’s big mistake, in his 3-strand political analysis, was to deny the existence of the Unionist aspiration ie that Unionists wished NI to remain part of the UK. From his perspective, Unionists were merely a (minority) tradition on the island of Ireland and any rights they could expect would be subject to the whim of the majority. [cf past treatment of minorities in NI and RoI, especially dissenting ones]

    I think the political establishments in these two islands ought to give some serious thought now to the potential for further conflict in the lead up to 2016. It’s likely IMO that they will sleep-walk their way through the preceding years and that the control agencies of the state could easily find themselves as much out of their depth as they were 40 years ago. The present establishments’ policy appears to be one of delegation of community control in many areas to the respective paramilitary godfathers; in some places this can be ‘cross-community’. What a mess we’re in …

  • Pete Baker

    My apologies, Jo.

    It wasn’t clear from your initial quoting of Rory – who seems to disagree with my analysis – that you actually agree with my analysis.

  • susan

    Jo, on the off chance you are about and see this —

    I often wondered how it was I would find myself posting (even for me) oblique thoughts to I Wonder, confident that he/she would understand, thoughts I wouldn’t hope of explaining them to some of my close associates in person. Cheers! Is mise mé féin.

    There was another less lovely but very potent poem by Rita Ann Higgins I was reminded of by the piss-poor treatment of the Quinn family by some of those those who should know better, and some of those who do know better. Unfortunately it is not on the net, and I can’t find my battered old paperback copy of “Goddess on the Mervue Bus.” But the jist of the poem was “Some people know what it is like…and some people don’t…” and it is a cracker. Some day I will locate it again.