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.

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  • Turgon

    A very interesting article. It muxt by now be clear to all taht no matter what we are all told to believe unionists do not regard themselves as collectively guilty for murdering people, just as nationalists should not (and I suspect largely do not).

    The report was indeed typical of the “peace industry” we have here and the only interesting thing it has done is highlight that some who are supposed to be leaders within the broader unionist community such as Lord Eames have completely sold out to the idiotic and immoral notion that we are all to blame.

    I must admit to feeling that the chorus of disapproval which greated the report and the objections to Eames’s involvement justify my repeated complaints about his involvement and actions.

  • X

    having read the whole article henry patterson has in a realatively few words summed up the real issues with the Eames/Bradley report and the “Peace Process” as a whole.

    rather than re hash the arguement read it for yourselves and take it in

  • Pancho’s Horse

    From the bastard conception of this state, I think that anyone who voted unionist/nationalist in any election nailed their colours to the mast and consequently all are guilty/innocent of tribal warfare. There is no petty distinction between victim and perpetrator except people who genuinely remained aloof from this administration.If a person lifted a weapon and used it to defend or attack the ‘state’, they were just the cutting edge – the miliotary wing of that portion of society here.

  • Brian Walker

    Hmmm.. An interesting critique on the past, one you’d expect from a historian (and not only from one who has a broad unionist perspective). Less clear though, what it says about trying to shape the future. And a bit rough too on the ngos etc whom I like to think of a benign nomenklatura. They kept the show on the road; who else was there? And can they be blamed for spawning a bland ideology? For the website, I’m wrestling with Eames/Bradley myself. One basic problem is where to cut off the context. But yes, theirs doesn’t go deep or wide enough.

  • Chris Donnelly

    It is interesting to note the depth of hostility from a leading light in the unionist/ revisionist academic ‘industry’ of the past 30 years- a beneficiary of one conflict-related industry slagging off another?

    Patterson’s argument is more noteworthy for the rather dubious intimation that the presence of historians (and we know what type of historian he means…) or indeed a broader bibliography would somehow have led the group to propose a framework for dealing with the ‘Past’ which would have absolved the RUC/UDR/ British Army (never mind British govt.) of any responsibility and, presumably, have placed the ‘blame’ on those bloodthirsty republicans (and the ‘reactive’ loyalists who ‘fell into the trap’ set for them by the pesky republicans.)

    Patterson notes that unionism, ‘for the first time since 1972,’ has an effective veto over key policy decisions, though crucially he fails to acknowledge that nationalism (via Sinn Fein) holds a reciprocal veto, thereby ensuring that there will in reality be little movement in either direction away from the Eames Bradley ‘framework.’

    One of the most interesting elements of the Report is that, through a process of listening and presumably much discussion, a group of unionists, nationalists and others came up with proposals which have proved such an anathema to unionist politicians and unionist academics.

    Hard to throw the Lundy label at Archbishop Eames…

  • Mick Fealty

    It won’t stop people from trying Chris.

    I’m still working my way through the report section by section, so I will reserve my own judgement until I get to the end, and I’ve done a little listening of my own.

    In truth though, the reaction from Nationalism has barely been more enthusiastic that that of Unionism.

    The 12 grand thing was bound to stir up a commotion since ‘no hierarchy of victims’ is an almost exclusively a nationalist notion.

    That was its real problem; not that it was controversial. Controversy can and should be cathartic.

  • Chris Donnelly

    But is it a ‘nationalist notion’ Mick?

    Let’s be honest- republicans will commemorate those dead from their own tradition, just as unionists/ loyalists will do whether its British soldiers/ RUC men or loyalist paramilitaries. For either side, the heirarchical structure will be clear, and civilians will largely remain forgotten, except by their own families.

    Thus is the way of the world- after all, the impressive Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall lists the 58,000 odd US casualties of that particular conflict, not the 1 million plus Vietnamese dead.

    I’d suggest it’s more a Christian notion than one identified with nationalists, who have adopted the line more readily than unionists in a bid to acknowledge the suffering inflicted upon those beyond their own tradition. Of course, there are many nationalists who have little time for republicans, but most of them would have little time for the notion that the British Army/ RUC were ‘piggies in the middle.’

    The only alternative view that could’ve been reasonably proposed by the Group was to distinguish combatants and non-combatants- and we know where that would have led to.

    The fact that several deeply religious individuals from either community- along with a number of international advisers seasoned in observing conflicts- would conclude that fixing a jaundiced narrative that elevates some of the deceased above others is not the best manner to go about dealing with our collective, troubled past is hardly surprising.

    More surprising for me, as I’ve stated, is the reaction from some who clearly are perturbed that their narrative is not bought into and therefore further legitimised by this ‘Official’ body.

    It suggests a certain shakiness to the narrative in the first instance, as if the days of being able to rely on the ‘Official’ line being consistent with their outlook are over.

    Patterson concludes with a reference to unionism’s ability to thwart British state policy. His objection to the Group’s proposal would appear to suggest that his real ‘problem’ is rooted in an inability to come to terms with the consequences of having to acknowledge the input of non-unionists in our new political dispensation.

  • Brian Walker

    What is lacking in both Eames/Bradley and Patterson’s short deconstruction of it is any attempt to evolve a theory of the state. Despite the difficulties, this should be attempted. Sovereign states with a legacy problem like post-war Germany devised a Basic Law and South Africa a multicommunal constitution. NI, which is in different senses a province of two closely associated states has a subtler problem. The analysis for the new Northern Ireland should begin with the proposition of treating the twin identities of British and Irish as complementary rather than contradictory and developing the broad principles of the Agreements rather than putting up with them on sufferance. The “lessons” of the past are many and various. Patterson’s depoliticisation of the non-paramilitary majority is too simplistic. It is just as questionable as Eames/Bradley’s assumptions that led them to no hierarchy of victims.

  • TwilightoftheProds

    Eames/Bradley is clearly imperfect (undertatement), and broad or clumsy in its assertions, but its designed as a focus for thinking as much as anything else. But circumstances will mean that we’ll probably do very little about the past – and in a politically and (partially_-territorially segmented society thats very foolish of us.

    But I think the key line in Patterson’s piece is the dig about no ‘professional historians’ being involved. I think thats the root of his critique. For one, I can’t see the ‘peace’ industry ‘usurping’ any political class – they just lack that will to power. They just filled a vacuum.

    Secondly, I don’t agree that ‘story telling’ is essentially relativistic – it just doesn’t carry that meaning for me – I think few people think that all stories are equally valid. But it is good to engage with the ‘other’ – you can have your eyes occasionally opened, and also some of your prejudices confirmed, you can challenge and critique the ‘other’ view, and you can revisit some of your own shaky positions too.

    Turgon – I don’t think that anyone is suggesting we as unionists (or nationalists) really share a fundamental and absolute collective guilt and responsibility for the carnage of a generation.

    But lets face it, there were gradations of prejudice that affected us all. More to the point I cannot quite divide the unionist political world into a non violent elect and the tattooed gunmen of the damned. You’ve done that a number of times, its your viewpoint, but I can’t believe that it helps us engage with the past. Or that its accurate. I witnessed a significant degree of ambiguity, sneaking regard and occasionally more, from people within (my) unionist community in relation to the use of force. Not a majority, but enough. This does not just apply to working class districts of belfast. This even applied to the dopey student unionist politics as represented by various cliques who would chance the sausage rolls in cloisters. And sections of the middling classes too.

    Its this lack of communal self awareness and reflection that I would have hoped a process of dealing with the past would have looked at. For both main communities. no hair shirts necessary, just a cold eye.

  • kensei


    he analysis for the new Northern Ireland should begin with the proposition of treating the twin identities of British and Irish as complementary

    I’m nto British and don’t particularly like the idea of having a “complementary” identity foisted on me. I’m sure there a numbe rof Unionists who don’t consider themselves “Irish” and that is there right. Go socially engineer someone else.

  • Turgon

    Mr. Donnelly,
    It is difficult to answer you regarding Eames without playing the man so I hope I will be indulged. If you read my blogs you will have seen that I for one have never had any time for Eames.

    My experience of most unionists both religious and non religious is that they feel Eames became more politican than minister and he was willing to bend to whatever was required: his “leadership” over Drumcree lost him support amongst both pro and anti orange factions of unionists.

    Remember also that within all strands of Protestants and especially outside the CoI there is a fairly anti clerical stance which occurs (for different reasons) in both religious and non religious Protestants. Essentially we do not listen to minsiters of religion if they tell us things we disagree with. Amongst the irreligious it is because they have no interest in that sort of thing, amongst the religious the concept of the priesthood of all believers massively reduces the credibility of any minister (even a bishop).

    What I am really suggesting is what I have been saying for months which is that many of us see Eames as an irrelevant fellow traveller with the thinking of the government and a man who having left the stage was quite enjoying being back in the limelight (something he may be reconsidering after the reception his report got).

    Branding him a lundy is something we have been doing for years.

    As I said sorry to sort of play the man but since your post was about the man it was difficult to answer and avoid the personality of Eames.