Eames-Bradley: An ahistorical tool of the Peace and reconciliation industry?

Henry Patterson has a piece in the Parliamentary Brief on the Eames-Bradley report. He’s worth quoting en bloc and at considerable length:

Bradley’s problem, and indeed the problem of the report, is that the politicians’ response articulates profound communal division over victims and the past. Unionists, politicians and those who have voted for them, do not agree with Bradley when he proclaims: ‘we cannot wash our hands and say we were not part of the problem’. Most firmly believe in the innocent victim/perpetrator distinction.

The Eames Bradley group’s orientation to these issues was heavily influenced by the peace and reconciliation industry which has grown up in Northern Ireland under more than 30 years of direct rule and the peace process. The place of a local political class was usurped by NGOs, community groups, former paramilitaries and academics. A key characteristic of this group was an ideology that fused in different combinations local versions of liberal theology, recycled 1960s Marxism, human rights absolutism and the utopian legal theory of transitional justice.

It represents a framework for understanding Northern Ireland’s past which is structurally biased against Unionism and puts terrorist organisations on a level with the security forces. A group dealing with the past but with no historians on it and whose extensive bibliography contains not one book by an academic historian produces a poor man’s post-modernism of ‘story-telling’ where the ‘police story’ or the ‘army story’ has the same truth value and moral content as the ‘former combatants’ story (transitional justice speak for terrorists’ narratives).

The poor benighted Northern Ireland populace, the vast majority of whom never joined a paramilitary organisation, are being faced with five years of being forced to be ‘reconciled’. For a majority that essentially means acknowledging that unless they listen to the usually self-justifying narratives of those responsible for most of the devastation of the Troubles, they are in danger of being responsible for future conflicts. This is the constant refrain of a community relations industry which has already had substantial amounts of state funding without any noticeable impact on continuing sectarian division in Northern Ireland. Under Eames-Bradley, the Treasury will be asked for £100m more to fill this black hole.

Eames-Bradley is the product of the fag-end of direct rule and the peace process. The social groups and ideas that produced it are characterised by their distance from and hostility to the unionist political class which now has an effective veto on key governmental decisions for the first time since 1972. Although the British government will pay attention to what Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Dublin have to say about the report, it will be difficult to ignore the hostility of Unionism. The Group may hope that once again a British government will ignore Unionist concerns but with Brown already in debt to the DUP over its support on 42 days detention and struggling not to be engulfed by the worst economic crisis since the 1930s this may prove unfounded.

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

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