Welcome to those readers of the Belfast Telegraph joining us here for the first time, or the first time in some while. Slugger’s Consultation on the Past will take all comments on this and other posts relating to the recent Eames Bradley report. Today we focus on the core of the groups thinking about the past and the need to remember in a public and structured sort of way.One of the earliest segments in the report is probably the genesis of many of the problems of the public controversy it ran into. Under what we’ve called the road map to the future section, the report lays out its thinking viz a viz the authors’ favoured definitions of the past. In particular they take a fairly vigorous stance on the need for remembrance to be done publicly:
…there are also disagreements about how the past can be dealt with. Some believe we cannot change our understanding of the past. Some believe the past should be laid out for all to see and that truth should be sought and told. Others say that the past should be forgotten in the interests of the future.
As those who carry the scars of the past know, and as the divisions in our society continue to illustrate, the past cannot be forgotten.
Buried memories fester in the unconscious minds of communities in conflict, only to emerge later in even more distorted and virulent forms to poison minds and relationships. The animosity between the communities continues, as is clear not least in the politics of the Stormont Assembly. When future generations ask why?, they will, if reasons are not considered and recorded, make up their own minds about what happened based on age old beliefs of the communities they come from.
They also argue that that retelling requires a ‘listening’:
Divided communities carry diferent experiences and understandings of the past in their minds, and indeed it is this that divides them. Their accounts of the past differ deeply. They are used as a marker to determine and make positive, but more frequently negative, moral judgements on each other and so continuing the legacy of suspicion, mistrust and hatred.
These diferent moral assessments are seen most clearly in each sides often strident retelling of their own story. If these conflicting moral assessments of the past are to change, then all sides need to be encouraged and facilitated to listen and hear each others stories.
This listening must then lead to honest assessment of what the other is saying and to recognition of truth within their story. In such a process it might be possible to construct a remembrance of our past which is more humane, comprehensive and rounded.
The address the underlying moral implications of their suggested process (The Legacy Commission) thusly:
To get the process of mutual forgiveness and eventual reconciliation up and running, the conversation need not result in either side admitting to being always and entirely in the wrong. In fact, given the moral imprecision for which fallible human beings are renowned, it would be strange indeed if in such cases one side were ever found to be always and entirely in the right. It would be sufficient that there is an admission that, just as rights were present on both sides, so also wrongs were committed on both sides.
It might even be sufficient for the process of forgiveness and reconciliation to begin if parties would agree that they are dealing with genuine moral agents like themselves, people who can make mistakes in their moral decisions and who also have the moral stature to move beyond them. Even on such narrow ground the seeds of future forgiveness and reconciliation can grow.
As cross-community storytelling and other forms of memorialisation proceed and increase, it is quite possible that the overall futility of recourse to arms to solve the problems of a divided Northern Ireland might begin to dawn on those who took part.
If you want to comment on this piece, please head over to the Remembrance for reconciliation section and leave your thoughts there. All comments will be pre-moderated, so there may be a delay before yours goes public.
Note: this is an entirely unfunded initiative on the part of Slugger O’Toole. It is intended to facilitate public debate on the detail of a report the detail of has been largely bypassed by the mainstream media. All opinions are welcome. Just remember to keep it relevant and civil!
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty