“We are consulting anyway..”

Earlier Turgon posted some thoughts and questions about the Eames/Bradley chaired Consultative Group on the Past. And, interestingly, David Adams covered similar concerns in the Irish Times today. He begins by picking up on those “anonymous sources close to that group”. From the Irish Times [subs req]

Non-attributable kite-flying and plausibly deniable leaking as a means of swaying or inuring public opinion is usually the grubby preserve of governments and political parties; it is certainly not what you expect from a body trying to encourage more openness (and honesty) in others.

And he goes on to conclude

I hold both Lord Eames and Denis Bradley in high regard, and have no desire to be unduly harsh about the options reportedly under consideration by the CGP. Suffice to say that the idea of a British government formally declaring that it was engaged in a war in Northern Ireland, and thereby elevating paramilitary groups to an equivalent level with state security organisations, turns morality on its head.

The massive legal implications of such a move are made clear by even a cursory glance at the Hague and Geneva conventions regarding conduct of war and war crimes, especially where the deliberate targeting, torturing, kidnapping and disappearing of civilians is concerned.

To think that a retrospective declaration of war in tandem with a general amnesty might result in lawbreakers coming forward to admit guilt is naive in the extreme. The overriding truth is that it is impossible, at least at this early juncture, for people in Northern Ireland to agree about recent history.

In order to construct a generally agreed, widely palatable version of the past, the truth must be contorted and cherry-picked – which is in direct contradiction to the very notion of truth recovery, and would probably do more harm than good. Lord Eames and Denis Bradley are engaged in an impossible task.

Also in the Irish Times, Denis Bradley eschews the leaks by anonymous sources and is quoted directly from the last public meeting of the Consultative Group suggesting that they might come to just such a conclusion. [subs again]

Addressing the last in a series of public meetings, the group’s co-chairman Denis Bradley said they could reluctantly conclude that the community is not yet ready to move on. “That is as big a possibility at this point than any other,” he said.

“There have been many versions of truth told to us, some of them parallel, some of them utterly contradictory. I’m not sure it’s our job to rule on the truth.

“But I think we might be able to find some truth common to us all.”

Mr Bradley told the public meeting in Omagh, Co Tyrone that it was possible that the issue of the Troubles legacy was being addressed “too soon”.

“We are consulting anyway. When you tackle it now you engage the people with greatest hurt.”

Except that it might not be that it is “the community” who are not ready to move on, but rather that they are not ready to move in the manner suggested by those anonymous sources last week.

And further, any movement is being severely restricted by the reluctance of those with vested interests to tell the truth to their own tribes.

The Consultative Group, however, would do well to note that delay carries its own risks.

As I’ve pointed out previously, The Cure at Troy just doesn’t get quoted as often as it used to..

  • The Dubliner

    I suspect that the political decision on establishing a Truth Commission (or similar) was already made in the negative and that the Consultative Group is just a charade which has the purpose of creating the bogus impression that the governments are actually prepared to run grave risks of having the nature of their own role in the violence and the role of ‘protected’ politicians being the subject of public scrutiny. It is notable that most of the North’s citizens are against a Truth Commission or indifferent to it despite it being in their own interests to understand a little more about the questionable characters of those who govern them. It is not in the governments’ or the main political parties’ interests, so they assume it is not in their interests, too. It’s possible that is a result of not wanting to knowing who they voted for, but more likely the result of conditioning by those with the most to lose. I suspect is a case of doing a little public dance and then calling the whole thing off. The people will think they made the decision, when it was made for them, and long ago.

  • Pete Baker

    “It is notable that most of the North’s citizens are against a Truth Commission..”

    Are they Dub?

    As you say, “It is not in the governments’ or the main political parties’ interests..”

    But I don’t see evidence for the former assertion.

    Against the conditions applied, perhpas – as leaked by those anonymous sources. But that’s not necessarily the same thing.

  • The Penguin

    The main concern, as I see it, at least for the unionist section of the public in Northern Ireland, is not with having a full, warts and all exposure of the truth. But with a rewriting of history to suit certain interests under the banner of “truth exposure”.

    There is plenty of evidence that their fears are well founded.

  • Pete Baker


    “a rewriting of history to suit certain interests..”

    That is, or should be, a concern for all sections of the public – regardless of whose interests are being suited.

  • The Penguin

    I agree entirely. In a perfect world that is how things would work.
    But, unfortunately, fallible humans that we are, those who are unfairly treated by historical rewriting will tend to care more than those who aren’t. In our case, the unionists.

  • Pete Baker

    I stand by what I’ve already said, Penguin

    “That is, or should be, a concern for all sections of the public – regardless of whose interests are being suited.”

  • The Penguin

    And why on earth shouldn’t you. It is the only position a reasonable person could adopt.

    We all should care about the wrongful rewriting of history, no matter in whose interest it is.

    I simply point out that in all cases involving humans, and particularly where there are ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, seldom if ever is this the case in practice.

  • Dewi

    “Non-attributable kite-flying” is actually a good way of informally testing the water. Eames/Bradley seem to have done quite skilfully.

  • RepublicanStones

    penguin, unionists would like to write history to suit themselves, after all we have a few gems from them in the past….
    ‘The IRA started the Troubles’
    ‘Civil Rights were a front’
    ‘Catholics were not mistreated’

    perhaps it is that history will uncover a few uncomfortable home truths for unionism, and this is seen to be something to avoid !

  • Pete Baker

    *shakes head*

    Please re-read the original post before commenting.

  • The Penguin


    Perhaps you’re right, anything is possible.

    Except unionism is well used to being cast as the bad guys, what more can be thrown in that direction that hasn’t already?
    On that basis, I would suggest that a truthful history might just be a lot more uncomfortable for republicans than unionists.

    Ed Moloney, who had an awful lot of journalistic access for a long time, has often hinted as much.

    Interesting how lukewarm Alex Maskey was on the whole thing on Hearts and Minds last night.

  • The Dubliner

    Pete & The Penguin, unless I see a poll indicating support for a Truth Commission, my reading is that most people are opposed to any mechanism which explores the civil strife with an agenda to issue a definitive statement about its nature and causes, etc, for a plethora of diverse reasons. Unionists have consistently opposed inquiries into the State’s involvement in the murder of its own citizens, and I see no reason for them to inconsistently alter their objection in what could potentially be the mother of all such inquiries, nor for the State to alter its own policy of obstruction. PSF have no desire for the State’s collusion with murder gangs to be exposed now that the revelations about Freddie Scappaticci makes it clear that such collusion extends to them. Nationalist voters don’t seem to have the same enthusiasm for inquiries into the State’s shenanigans since that revelation. Likewise, Unionist political parties have other reasons for Colluding in Silence as Mick Hall pointed out. The risk that a government agent may actually process a conscience and use a Truth Commission to expose the State as running a murder campaign as policy is a risk that no government would ever take. Neither would both governments want PSF’s bloody past to be re-visited because of the risks that would entail to the stability of the new political arrangements. Headlines featuring submissions to a Truth Commission such as “Stormont Minister Sanctioned X Attack” is not a risk they could take. The present situation where no definitive or official account is written, leaving everybody free to project version of events onto the past seems to suit voter, party, citizen, and state. Everybody, in fact, except those who desperately need some form of (elusive) resolution to the misery that the State and those who now run the State inflicted on them.

    As I see it, the bind for the two governments is how to give the impression that the victims of the violence have some right to truth even if they have been denied right to justice. The governments can’t simply say “Sorry, the truth is too risky, so we’re not going to go there” so they have to go through the motions by pretending that they have no objections to a Truth Commission. So, they grant the option and then engineer the rejection of such a commission by the citizens rather than by them. That is why you are getting a plethora of stories planted in the media all of which focus on how problematic such a commission would be to everybody (except the ones who it would actually be most problematic to, i.e. the guilty), ranging from amnesties, definitions, etc, to absurd epistemological about the nature of truth and how there can be ‘shared truth’ and therefore no point is discovering any truth. The citizens will be conditioned to the effect that a Truth Commission is not in their best interests, and will reject it accordingly. They’ll think it was their idea, and the governments won’t look like they denied the victims the right to some form of closure, however flimsy.

    I freely confess to being a cynic. However, as cynics as only right 50.1% of the time, that means we come out ahead on the law of averages.

  • The Dubliner

    Typo: “…absurd epistemological arguments about the nature of truth and how there can be no ‘shared truth’ and therefore no point in discovering any truth.”

  • RepublicanStones

    penguin it would be rare for the colonizers to come out cleaner than the colonized.
    but an honest history might make republicans face up to some hard facts perhaps.

  • Rory

    A change in legal status that might “turn morality on its head”. Indeed. Wonders will never cease.

    Is Adams arguing, as Trotsky did, that “morality” is a moveable feast? That there is a bourgeois morality, a proletarian morality, a revolutionary morality? And which one of these “moralaties” informs his argument? May we guess?

    His vision of the idea of the relationship between “law” and “morality” appears to me to be somewhat occluded. It was common practice, in my day at least, that the very first lesson hammered home to pupils at their very first law lecture was ever and always this: “The law is amoral”. And indeed it is. And indeed ruthless in the application of it’s judgement.

    We might also challenge him on his very concept of “war”. Was the genocide in furtherance of the usurpation of their traditional lands waged against the American nations by European invaders a “war”? The individual nations certainly felt that it was and the US Congress at least, perhaps unthinkingly on their part, decided that the “campaign”, once over and victory assured, be known as “The Indian Wars” of which the vainglorious, vicious, opportunistic and (conveniently) dead Custer was the hero.

    I have a strong memory of the Alan Coren lookalike, Major-General Harry Tuzo declaring on the early evening UTV News programme, prior to internment, that “We are now at war with the IRA”. He then listed a number of men including, as I recall: Joe Cahill; Liam Hannaway; Leo Martin; Frank Cards; Seamus Twoomey, among others, as being among the leadership of that entity on which he had declared war on behalf of a collective “we”. And so it began – a war of Tuzo’s moral pygmies against those who daily questioned the morality of their actions. They did not always answer truly to that question but they did ask. It is in the questioning that “morality” exists if it can be said to exist at all.

    “Law” does not question, neither does it brook question. It is always, wherever, the decision, the fait accompli of the most powerful of whichever wherever.

    It is not that the bourgeois pomposity of Adams’s assumption that “war” is as his mob decides that rankles – it is the howling stupidity of it that amuses. Flann O’Brian, we love you yet.

  • The Penguin

    You obviously make no distinction between war, as defined by international law, and the term as a common euphemism. And I’ll bet you have no time for such niceties as the rules of war and war crimes.

    No doubt you stand ready with a list of war crimes committed by the USA and the UK over the centuries, to draw attention away from the subject matter and the fact that war crimes, as legally defined, were not isolated incidents as far as paramilitaries in NI were concerned, but how they operated daily.

    As for this “…against those who daily questioned the morality of their actions”.

    Bloody fool.

  • justthoughtidask

    While interesting in a navel gazing sort of a way, all of the above misses the point entirely.

    In order to properly evaluate the Eames/Bradley enterprise you have to realise a few things.

    The two lead characters in this are proxies for the two governments. The rest are “nice people” there just to make up the numbers, tick the necessary boxes and shift the focus a bit from being solely on E and B.

    Their primary agenda is to keep momentum in the “peace process” and shift things along.

    The use of pollyanna-type journalists, who see their role as players in bringing peace as opposed to unbiased reporting on the process, is vital. Hence the select few chosen for the briefings.

    During the week, the devolution of policing and justice has been mentioned more and more often as a possible outcome, right in line with their objective of moving things along. This is highly political and should be of no concern to E/B but they keep throwing it in.
    If they were really interested in uncovering all that has happened, then why no mention of the Irish governments part? Simply because it serves no useful purpose in what they are trying to acheive.

    Anyone foolish enough to think that “truth” and relief for “victims” is the target of E/B is going to be sorely disappointed. If that comes about as a byproduct, all the better, but it is not the objective, never has been.
    This is a political exercise, pure and simple.

  • Dewi

    “Their primary agenda is to keep momentum in the “peace process” and shift things along.”

    A very appropriate primary agenda IMHO.

  • feckit

    “A very appropriate primary agenda IMHO”

    Not if your remit to imvestigate the past. The clue is in the name ie. Consultative Group on the Past.

  • Dewi

    Not if your remit to imvestigate the past. The clue is in the name ie. Consultative Group on the Past.

    “To consult across the community on how Northern Ireland society can best approach the legacy of the events of the past 40 years; and to make recommendations, as appropriate, on any steps that might be taken to support Northern Ireland society in building a shared future that is not overshadowed by the events of the past”

    Terms of reference – right blanace I suggest.