Eames-Bradley: Preserving the partial sanctity of the past…

Wednesday’s release of the Eames Bradley report on how do deal with Nothern Ireland’s troubled past was, as Lord Robin Eames himself noted on BBC NI’s Hearts and Minds programme last night, a poisoned chalice from the outset.

Both men were determined to come out of that process with something real, rather than a bland or abstract measure that could reach an easy consensus but then be pushed into the long grass and be neglected.

Their recommendation that a blanket £12,000 payment to the families of all victims was intended to recognise and reinforce the fact that suffering throughout the Troubles was universal.

It’s a bold and truthful statement. But it’s a political and highly partial one too.

It is truthful in that the deaths of every victim of the Troubles caused their loved ones untold anguish. And that anguish hardship knows no political boundaries.

The IRA man who spent 15 or 20 years on the run or in prison whilst his families carried on without a father in house. The Loyalist paramilitary shot dead in front of his daughter and her classmates coming out of school.

For their families these were tragedies of the highest order.

But by taking a simple, comprehensive approach, the report puts the loss of these men’s lives on the precisely the same footing of those they may have tortured, maimed and killed; often in the most bestial of ways.

That’s the insult that gave rise to what Mairtin O’Muilleoir describes as Strum und Drang of the protests in the Europa. The injury perhaps comes in their recommendation that a legacy commission be set up.

Around the time of the establishment of this consultative group Brian Rowan, a veteran journalist of the Troubles, noted that Eames and Bradley had an opportunity to take a rather nasty ‘bull by the horns’. By which he meant:

…the Eames/Bradley group should invite the IRA army council, the UVF and Red Hand Commando brigade staff and the UDA inner council to send representatives to a specially-convened conference.

Those who can speak for the police, the Army and the security services should also be there, as well as representatives of the relevant governments and political parties. The conference should take as long as it needs to establish what the parties to the conflict are prepared to contribute in answering and explaining that past.

Needless to say, no such proposal, nor anything remotely like it, has been included. The proposed Legacy Commission provides no such public means of determining who is and who isn’t willing to disclose their part in the dirty war of the past.

The fatal flaw as Pete noted at the time:

…the groups he’s pointing to as being necessary participants in that conference include those responsible for the amnesiacs deal – and those who would have a vested interest in continuing to tip-toe round the past.

So in terms of the central structure recommended by the report, the burden will almost entirely fall upon those were acting in the interest of the State. Yet as Prof Paul Bew has pointed out the State is only responsible for a small proportion of the deaths.

It is true that they draw out some individual issues that had been swept under the political carpet. In the launch of its preliminary report, Bradley noted:

In all our consultations it is unclear if Republicans truly appreciate the depth of hurt that exists in the Unionist community.

Republicans claimed they were targeting State forces in the guise of RUC/UDR members. Unionist communities, particularly in rural border areas, saw such tactics as deliberately killing fathers and eldest, or only, sons to drive Protestants from their homes and land. We have heard many stories from these communities who describe their experiences in this way – as at best raw sectarianism and at worst ethnic cleansing.

Eames-Bradley never possessed the remit nor the power to recommend full disclosure of past events. Even the focus on state violence entails a continuation of already weak provisions currently in place.

The Irish, as Niall Ferguson has noted, have a peculiar bent for:

…conferring patriotic sainthood on everyone from the famine-starved of the 1840s to the hunger strikers of the 1980s. The Serbs have a similar ability to keep the bitterness of the past alive.

Yet, as past experience shows, partial disclosure of the truth of the past is not only less than satisfactory, it is also highly amenable to political manipulation.

By those lights, Dennis Bradley and Robin Eames’ sincere effort to draw out the bitter poison of the past up front are doomed to fail when so much of it will remain partial or hidden. In the meantime, £12,000 can neither dispel the pain of the past; nor force the many victims groups to just shut up and go away.

Only the continuing triumph of politics over self perpetuating (and self destructive) violence can do that… In the meantime the battle to preserve the partial sanctity of the past will continue long into the future…

, ,

  • William

    I chair a Victims Group [9 killed, both Protestant and Roman Catholic] and we didn’t get an ‘official Invitation’ to the launch of this report. You can imagine my disgust, when I heard, during the protest, an official of the Consultative group responding to someone [I think Cedric Wilson] asking why Adams was present. The official said, ‘Everyone who is hear, was officially invited.’

    Yes, Adams,the Leader of the main terrorist group that was responsible for almost 70% of the deaths during the Troubles was thought eligible for an ‘official invitation’ but my victims group wasn’t.

    Tells me a lot about the Eames / Bradley group and why they came to the decision to equate Terrorists with innocent victims.

  • William

    Sorry for typo: ‘….everyone who is HERE’

  • Kilmegan

    What is the rationale for offering £12,000? All victims would be treated equally if their next of kin were offered nothing. There would have been a lot less furore. Much of what is proposed is ‘stirring the pot’ rather than finding a solution. How many victims were consulted about this payment? I tend to agree that little will come out of the Legacy Commission

  • joeCanuck

    Excellent report , Mick.

    I am puzzled by the 12,000. Apart from it being an insult, why not 5,000 or 25,000. Which assessor came up with this figure. Is it, as Turgon suggested in his thread, the price of a new small car?

  • ulsterfan

    From the start of the troubles individuals and groups did not accept full responsibility for their actions.
    One by one they denied being involved always seeking to place the blame on others.
    The question of payment can easily be overcome.
    Give to families of everyone who died and place the amount into a trust from which payment can be given to those who are entitled.
    A UVF terrorist who is killed should have payment made to his estate and they in turn re-direct that money to those who were injured by his actions thus making an attempt to provide justice and the same goes for IRA members.
    A volunteer subsequently killed should by this method recompense the family of a policeman who had been shot.
    The buss word is now responsibility—-no more hiding!

  • Dewi

    hmm I think they both have thought well.Get the £12k out first and then,perhaps, implement the important stuff. Both did well on the box I thought.

  • William

    Denis Bradley addressed the question as to how they came to suggest £12k….because the Republic offered 15k Euros, at that time equivalent to £12k sterling.

    Irrespective how they came to the figure, it is an absolute disgraceful suggestion.

  • USA

    I think there is no doubt that the IRA viewed attacks on RUC/UDR as attacks on the British forces.
    I also think to view the attacks as purely sectarian perhaps tells more about the mindset of those holding such beliefs. That is, they viewed the conflict as a purely sectarian conflict.
    There is ample evidence to support a stance that the philosophy of armed force republicanism was not purely based in sectarian hatred.
    One cannot however overlook the fact that sectarianism was and does exist in the North, and the significant role it played in the conflict. But this was more a conflict driven by political and constitutional questions such the constitutional position of the North.
    I think the comparison between the southern Irish and Serbs (implied guilt by association) is unfortunate. However, I guess nationalists that one coming after numerous comparisons between the northern statlet and aparthied South Africa.
    I can pretty much agree with the rest of the piece (except of course for anything written by Peter Baker).
    I think we can all agree the 12k is very problematical, but it should not be allowed to diminish some of the good ideas generated by Eames/Bradley.
    Being in the US I have not seen the report, but I would like to hear about some of the more positive elements as I am sure they exist.

  • USA

    Sorry if my last post was a little off topic. Those of us oversees do not have access to the media player on the BBC website. Consequently we are unable to view the shows you guys see and are sometimes restricted to commenting on the posts we can read.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks for that USA. I would heartily recommend downloading the report (think Pete has a link to it if you can bare it). I look forward to hearing your considered response.

    It seems to me that there will never be anything other than a hierarchy of victims in a thirty year long civil war. It is inherent in human nature.

    In an ER they operate a triage system, which prioritises patients in order of their pressing surgical needs. That’s an incredibly efficient means of deal with problems of life and death.

    In terms of bereavement we always tend towards prioritising our ‘own’, regardless of our religion or identity.

    But how comfortable do you feel, for instance, in dealing equally between someone killed passing the Abercorn in 71, and the family of someone like Lenny Murphy?

    What appears initially to be an egalitarian appeal to the core of human sympathy can end up being something different, entirely.

  • USA

    Mick,
    I see your point, personally I would be prepared to accept all victims as equal.
    I say all victims as I think those wounded, maimed, emotionally scarred, those left behind, fatherless children, maybe even those who left due to lack of opportunity, those with PTSD, trauma, those forced from their homes etc, these are all victims and probably number in the hundreds of thousands.
    I believe that truth is a social construction, it comes from people first agreeing on something, that then becomes truth. It seems some folks don’t understand that, preferring to stick with “their” own version of the truth. Folks need to be prepared to hear the other side, the protestors did not want to hear anyone. They are focussing their opposition on the 12K and using the “Begley” arguement, an effective counter arguement has not yet developed.
    I certainly don’t have the answer. Perhaps Eames / Bradley will fall on the sword of unintended consequences, but I hope not as it would be a victory for those who made the most noise and reduced a complex story of human tragedy to a few sound bites of bigotry.

  • USA

    I believe Jim Allister is just playing this like a political football, with both eyes fixed on the prize of a Euro election victory (in June?). It is disgraceful that he is prepared to put his own political advantage ahead of the needs of the wider community.

    He needs vote winning issues with broad / regional appeal with which to differentiate himself from the DUP. He saw the leaks on the Eames / Bradley report as just an opportunity.
    [Text removed – mods]
    Who leaked the document anyway?

  • Brian Walker

    For me, Eames/Bradley is the latest of of a number of necessary comprises for wrapping up the Troubles. The sum is greater than the parts, like the GFA itself. It is part of a political solution, not an ultimate judgment on the Troubles which in this society is not yet attainable. Nearly 11 years after the GFA it is surely obvious that neither compulsion nor incentive exists for any person or group to admit anything, beyond their own conscience. The Group came to a (small”p”)political decision about this. At the presentation, Dennis Bradley said
    ” We have kept the potential for justice open….. that is all some people have to hold on to.. That is why we have stopped short of recommending an amnesty.”

    But he all but admitted that “justice” is a lost cause. In any judgment of Solomon, recognition would be given to the fact that the limitation on prosecutions has already de facto been reached – ( call it “limitation” if you recoil at the word ” amnesty” which implies forgiveness ). This is really a pretence to avoid drawing fire.

    I regret the fact the two leading men who were trained in making a moral case did not try to argue equivalence from basics rather than rely on the mawkishiness of “a mother’s tears”.

    As ever, the raucous objectors scented their evasion and went for their throats. Like those who disastrously cringed before the young Paisley in the 60s, they feared the violence of “moral” pharisaical aggression and preferred to duck the debate. Some things never change.

    Finally, is it actually true that we will never cope the future until we “deal” with the past in any complete and inclusive fashion?.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Brian,

    “Finally, is it actually true that we will never cope the future until we “deal” with the past in any complete and inclusive fashion?”

    Firstly, your analyses on this have been very good. Your question is one that has to be considered alongside the various interests in maintaining a silence regarding the activities of the past. For me there are two primary justifications for an effective legacy commission.

    The first does not only regard Northern Ireland. It is that methods were used by the British (& Irish, I imagine) governments that were abuses of human rights – murder, torture, internment. Their continued use in other theatres is evidence that policy still condones them and their effectiveness. Yet, as CAJ showed in an extremely impactful post-troubles report, they are counter-productive. Similarly, Jonathan Powell’s admission that SF strengthened their negotiating stance through violence encourages non-state actors like Hamas to continue with armed struggle. While it is empirically true that violence can be effective in the short-term, that does not mean it is effective in finally creating the kind of society want – as the kids burning police cars outside anti-social behaviour meetings testify.

    The second is that peace is far from stable over a decade after Good Friday. The recommendation that all actors be challenged to forever renounce violence at the end of the five-year Legacy term is useful, but why not the beginning? Were this used as a platform for engaging people on a mass scale, I think it would embed a stability to counter the arms and violent intentions that remain in circulation. Not investigating the past allows the resentment to fester. Even dormant, it still presents a risk; the abuse of position in Stormont means it is very possible that the old resentments will compound surmountable problems in the future to create a return to violence.

    The idea that if we discover, by way of example, collusion in its various axes was a reality, the masses will take to the streets with arms is ridiculous. People will feel less paranoid, perhaps. Vindicated and smug even. But the admission would decrease the likelihood of violence recurring.

    Creating a motivation for the paramilitaries to reveal their past crimes and methodologies will be very difficult. I would imagine financial incentivisation, distasteful as it is, is likely to be most effective. We already pay for ex-paramilitaries to remain at peace in any case. Another argument is that both British and Irish troops who are in theatres of urban warfare could be made more secure with information from paramilitaries. Perhaps levels of infiltration means there is nothing to be learned, but there should at least be a mechanism for sharing the information between the two governments.

    The greatest danger lies in trying to close a chapter that is, in many if not most minds, a daily reality. Sectarianism levels testify to that. I’d suggest that integrating education is more important even than truth recovery, but I think both are essential.

  • William

    Mick….I look forward to you editing the contribution from USA…..[Ball not Man] as he called Jim Allister, a ‘disgusting human being’….that from an anonymous Yank / Plastic Paddy who knows nothing about the MEP

    No one leaked the Eames / Bradley report….they briefed selected Journalists, hoping that the £12k ‘boil’ would be lanced prior to the launch. Like the Report itself, they were well wide of the mark.

  • Brian Walker

    Damian,
    There may be danger in ignoring the past altogether but we can be sure that won’t happen.
    In a society riven with moralising is that the morality of all actions on all sides will remain a matter of opinion, not judgment, whether case by case, or over-arching.

    No single orthodoxy about the past will emerge quickly, if ever. Justice in individual cases will now never be reached as trials and punishment will not take place.

    Therefore we are left trying to reach a collective view of history of all its elements. This too will not happen any time soon; it can only happen piecemeal and made subject to reviews and discussion. Then perhaps some verdicts can emerge and some agreed – but only some.

    The best that can be done, I’m becoming more and more convinced, is to redact all the papers where necessary, submit them to expert archiving and open them to all. Government might then launch and fund an open history project which would include both closed and open interaction.

    A panel of historians and journalists ( no, not jobs for boys and girls ) would steer the material towards regular publication. Specialist themes would be devised. Private individuals should also have access.

    I don’t think I would pay anyone anyone any money as part of this project. If new material needs can be uncovered, all well and good – let there be a new review of the criteria for compensation.

    I’m sceptical about the current general vogue for idealising victimhood. I don’t see how being distorted by suffering makes a victim a better arbiter of justice.

  • ulsterfan

    Damian

    One small point.
    You accuse the British government of torture and murder.
    This is not true.
    The Irish government did indeed bring Britain before the European Court in Strasbourg making a charge of torture and after a hearing lasting months the charges were dismissed.
    There has never been a successful charge of murder brought against the State.

  • That’s an interesting idea Brian about the open history project, but who would be the historians. After all, the leading writer on NI, Lord Professor Bew, is hardly objective. And as for journalists, you’ll know how many of them have political commitments better than anyone. And most of the work done by people on the Troubles is, quite frankly, abysmal, and those people shouldn’t be allowed near anything.

  • William

    MICK ARE YOU ON SHORE LEAVE OR MANNING THE SHIP???

    BALL NOT MAN FROM USA IS STILL UNEDITED AT 8.50PM SATURDAY – WHY?

    I believe Jim Allister is just playing this like a political football, with both eyes fixed on the prize of a Euro election victory (in June?). It is disgraceful that he is prepared to put his own political advantage ahead of the needs of the wider community.
    He needs vote winning issues with broad / regional appeal with which to differentiate himself from the DUP. He saw the leaks on the Eames / Bradley report as just an opportunity.
    A disgusting human being.
    Who leaked the document anyway?
    Posted by USA on Jan 31, 2009 @ 02:04 AM

  • USA

    Silliam (pronounced Silly-am)
    I have my views on Jim Allister, just as I have my views on the Paisley’s. You cannot censor them.
    Your “Plastic Paddy” remark however is a racist one, I conclude therefore that you are a racist.
    By the way, if it was not for us “anonymous Yanks”, as of “AT 8.50PM SATURDAY” you would be typing in German.

    Auf Wiedersehen

    PS. The name William is of Germanic origin isn’t it, how do they pronounce it? – Veelhelm?

  • Reader

    USA: By the way, if it was not for us “anonymous Yanks”, as of “AT 8.50PM SATURDAY” you would be typing in German.
    I hadn’t thought you were that old. I wonder did you meet my grandad in Normandy and north-west Europe? He said he met some Americans during his time in the REME. They would probably have been 9th Army, I suppose.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Brian,

    That’s an intriguing idea. I doubt, with the continued refusal to release the Stevens reports, that the government(s) would be very willing to give too much information away, so the redaction may be too much to satisfy some. In many cases, people will not see justice done.

    What could make that more bearable, though, is an agreed narrative of the last fourty years from the political leaders – who ought to be trusted with access to the most sensitive of information. Sadly, I think they feel their electoral interests are better served by disagreement. The current confusion between victims and innocent victims is a falsehood to cover their unwillingness to reach a compromise on what was right and wrong. I take your point that it must be open to review, but an effort to reach an agreed position would be a start.

    You have a point on “idealising” victims. It is true that on a society-wide basis, a dispassionate approach is best. I do think that each victim is the best person to ask about his or her personal needs. The collation of these responses into a strategy is best done by ‘experts,’ but broadly that is how the system works at present. I think in respect for suffering, one can acknowledge the fact that hostility breeds further suffering.

    Garibaldy does make an interesting point on agendas that may conflict – I would imagine that would be a problem. Yet attracting the finest thinkers would be easier in the context of a project like the one you have suggested.

    Ulsterfan,

    See the case of Binyam Mohamed, whose torture was accompanied by questions passed from the British to his interrogators. That is complicity in torture. You will appreciate that I’m not convinced by your ‘successful charge’ argument, when the government controls the release of information that may lead to a prosecution. The Finucane case may be the most relevant.

  • ulsterfan

    Damian

    Torture has a very specific meaning in law, both nationally and internationally.
    Charges were brought against Britain by Ireland motivated by politics rather than justice and to placate Republicans but after a long legal process in Europe which must be viewed as independent the charges were dismissed.
    Surely this is the only way to deal with such allegations and we accept the verdict.

    I know nothing about the other case you mention but what has this to do with proceedings in NI?

    I am looking forward to the Finucane Inquiry to see what comes out of the wood work.

    It will be very interesting.