Bernadette McAliskey began her letter to the Irish News yesterday:
“As a matter of urgency — before this pretence of a democratic, secular and modern administration unravels itself in abject disgrace, it needs to exercise its responsibility for protection of children and young people, and initiate an investigation into sexual abuse and exploitation in this jurisdiction, and the role of organisations in protecting perpetrators or failing to protect victims.”
She called for an inquiry stretching from “the 1960s to the present, the longest period of protracted and violent political conflict”, adding that “allegations now in the public domain add to previous allegations buried in the haze of the Troubles and reflect an enduring culture of corruption, an ‘appalling vista’ of arrogance and abuse that underpins the tolerance of the abuse of children (and women) to protect the structures of authority.”
She also made the point that this is not confined to Sinn Fein, and further noted that “there is something singularly distasteful about the glee with which Gerry Adams is currently being pursued, pilloried by his opponents, and hung out to dry by his party, while society contents itself with texting trivial and dubious jokes on this subject and on the ‘Robinson affair’… as if by removing a few symbolic heads the party, the political system and society can purge itself and the matter can be buried again.”
But she also notes: “where is the routine and popular chorus of demands for a public inquiry from any part of this segregated society?”
Therein stands an intractable problem. The commissions we have that might hold such and inquiry, the Human Rights Commission, the Victims Commission, or the Childrens’ Commission are government quangos which were not set up for the possible scale of the kinds of inquiry needed.
McAliskey also makes a good point about this not just being about Sinn Fein, or more accurately about how the IRA conducted itself in what it considered to be wartime. They may be where it begins, but no serious inquiry can afford to ignore the fact that much of the abuse we have heard about over the last few days has its origins in a paramilitary subculture in which the norms of law abiding society simply do not hold.
That subculture affects loyalist as much as nationalist and or republican areas.
An inquiry with an independent chair established under the 2005 Inquiries Act, requires some a consensus to move decisively and wash out the Augean stables… It prompts the question of where the political will can emerge from to deal with the nitty gritty of the problem when they cannot even agree on the broad and uncontroversial details around the devolution of policing and justice?
In the meantime, I close with why this an issue a pressing (and depressing) issue for those of us even remotely connected with it:
Is every victim expected to individually bare their trauma and pain — without support, protection or remedy — to the mercy of a voyeuristic media or the individual integrity of a few probing journalists willing to listen?
Are the accused to be tried, convicted or exonerated in the media, depending on who has the best spin-doctors, which journalist has the deepest motive, largest budget, the most integrity or the least to lose?
This has become an issue for the media, but it should not be so for the reasons laid out by Ms McAliskey above. Someone or something has to step into the breach with sufficient moral authority to deal with all parties to these tragic affairs fairly and with the necessary compassion.
That has been sorely lacking and in all of these cases and it is nothing short of a deep human tragedy…
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