McAliskey: “Before this pretence of a democratic administration unravels in abject disgrace…”

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…

  • FitzjamesHorse

    I remember Bernadette McAliskey when she was Bernadette Devlin. I also remember a time when her views were regarded as important.

  • Jimmy_Sands

    She’s spot on. There will of course be no inquiry as the NIO doesn’t want it any more than the terrorists do.

  • Storm

    McAliskey makes a very valid point. We all know that child sex abuse and violence against women is rife in our modern society and as long as the victims are silent, this problem will not go away.

    Let us get a public inquiry into this and leave no stone unturned. I agree it’s not only a republican problem, it’s a problem across the communities here.

    There is a lesson in this for some of our politicians whose personal lives have not yet been exposed in the media – people who live in glass houses…..

  • Isn’t this the woman whose political career the SDLP ruined because she had a child outside of wedlock!?

  • wild turkey

    fully agree with jimmy at post 2.

    however, if an inquiry were held, would be held under the auspices of local ,ie assembly perogative, or would it, as Jimmy seems to suggest, be a reserved matter?

    i am genuinely confused.

    clearly child related issues are dealt with by devolved departments; dhsspsni and dsdni for example, but, as mick notes, JUSTICE is still a reserved matter.

    of course the quango/commissions are silent on this one… and will remain so. quelle surprise.

    but where is the NSPCC in all this? do they have any relevant statutory powers…. or moral authority?

  • Jimmy_Sands

    It’s wider than simply child abuse. The fact is that NIO policy, certainly from 1999, was to tolerate violent crime committed by terrorist groups provided that it was confined to their own communities, a policy which was only reversed in the aftermath of the McCartney murder. Of course the terrorist groups permitted their members to rape with impunity, but why would you expect them to behave any better?

  • Mr. J.


    “The fact is that NIO policy, certainly from 1999, was to tolerate violent crime committed by terrorist groups provided that it was confined to their own communities, a policy which was only reversed in the aftermath of the McCartney murder.”

    Judging by the sporadic burts of violence which I see reported in the media as ‘being shot in the legs’ with no apparent signs of follow-up arrests (and I’m not talking about last nights events), I’m not sure how much things have changed regarding violence confined to the perpetrators communities.

    La meme chose…

  • Paddy

    Good intervention by Bernie Mac, though I don’t think the Pervies are hanging Gerry out to dry. She did formely declare: The war is over and the good guys lost”. Lots of the bad guys certainly won.

  • OscarTheGrouch

    Trying to see a positive aspect of this, is there a glimmer of hope that issues such as child protection, womans rights, free press, freedom of speech etc are now slowly being brought forward?

    These are the important issues of a healthy society, we have suffered a mysogynistic 50-60’s style student politics vs religous fundametalist nonsense for long enough.

    Maybe the first growing pains of a modern society? We can but hope…

  • tacapall

    Isn’t this the woman whose political career the SDLP ruined because she had a child outside of wedlock!?
    Posted by Conquistador on Jan 21, 2010 @ 04:33 PM

    What a comment, your name certainly suit you, its getting dark, you better get back to your Hamlet on your horse and cart theres witches about.

  • Danny Boy

    Fingers crossed, Oscar the Grouch! It’s possible, but Bernadette McAliskey’s right to suggest that a society with a ‘modern’ attitude to rape is not going to grow spontaneously from the bravery of a few individual victims. Individual victims have always been brave, and stories like these have always been known about in educational establishments, women’s groups and families. The only unusual thing at the moment is that they’re being published in newspapers, and as Mick points out, that’s not enough. Most importantly, it’s not enough to force locally powerful groups and statutory agencies to admit that they’ve always known too. It would be great if we were seeing the first cracks in the culture that regards these things as secondary to ‘real’ politics, but there’s very little sign of that yet.

  • Greenflag

    ‘where is the routine and popular chorus of demands for a public inquiry from any part of this segregated society?”’

    The powers that be or appear to be or pretend to be are still trying to estimate whether ‘usuns’ or ‘themuns’ will be most affected by any such lengthy investigations etc ?

    Well said Bernie and maybe you might consider a ‘return’ to politics in NI . Might shake up those fat bottomed lazy rear ends now parked at Stormont.

    ‘someone or something has to step into the breach with sufficient moral authority to deal with all parties to these tragic affairs fairly ‘

    You can rule out any high or low ranking clerics from any of the denominations for a start . YOu can also rule out bankers,politicians , insurance executives, car salesmen , hedge fund types , civil servant mandarins , members of the legal profession , gangsters , the Pope , the Archbishop of Canterbury , The Presbyterian Moderator , any or all Evangelist preachers .

    Not a lot of options out there once you raise the barrier to ‘sufficient moral authority’ . There is I believe not just a dearth of ‘moral’ authority but virtually an almost complete absence of any vestiges of same among the ‘leadership’ class -political , religious and economic in Northern Ireland and indeed throughout the anglophone world .

    On reflection I think Bernie herself could be just the person for this kind of job . As an experienced mother and grandmother I think we all know instinctively whose interest she’d take !

  • Presumably NICCY has been giving thought to some of these issues ….

    NICCY’s job is to promote and safeguard the rights and best interests of children and young people

  • Why do we always look to the ‘great and good’ to make up a ‘public enquiry’ when we all know most of these enquiries are simply the means to kick the problem into the long grass.

    It never ceases to surprise me we willing accept Juries are one of the most able and democratic means of decision making. 12 ordinary men and women are selected ‘out of a hat’ to sit in judgment on their pears. Professionals gather the necessary information and place it before them, but the final word is left to 12.

    Why should not public enquiries be staffed in a similar way, Juries after all sit in judgement on the most serious of cases up to and including murder.

    We really do need to start thinking outside the box as most of us long ago lost confidence in the so called great and good and their political and business patrons.

  • Storm

    Bernie for First Minister then?

  • petermac

    Bernie is dead right but I think we need to dig deeper into Irish society to find the answer and look at the attitudes we give our children (Generally) about how others should be treated sexually and otherwise or these awful things will continue .All the legislation in the world will not stop human beings acting inhumanly to other humans.
    Its simple really and Christ said it all “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” but for a professed Christian Country we do not always show Christian actions

  • heamaisbharney

    “Bernie for First Minister then? ”

    certainly a better option than any we have at the moment.

  • Kevsterino

    I think I still have a dog-eared copy of “Price of My Soul” laying about in the attic somewhere.

    Bernie is a fascinating woman, but she hasn’t exactly been a big contributor to solving the political puzzles the last 20 or 30 years or so.

    I wonder why she didn’t speak up sooner?

  • Alias

    It’s all very laudable stuff from Bernadette McAliskey but has she forgotten that such an inquiry would have be undertaken via the Inquiries Act and that the State can control the inquiry to such an extent that it would, in the words of the former Canadian Supreme Court Judge Peter Cory, “make a meaningful inquiry impossible”? In fact, all power is removed from the judiciary and placed in the hands of a British minister, so Bernadette has clearly come a long way since the days when she preferred to slap their faces rather than trust them absolutely.

    The political class would simply be investigating itself under its own terms of reference and rules and would, not surprisingly, exonerate itself. If there was to be such an inquiry (and there won’t be), then it should be held under a new Act that is the same as the repealed Act, with the inquiry being independent of political control. If the State deliberately failed in its duty of care to its own citizens, through act or omission, in using or overlooking the sexual abuse of children to further its own national security interests then that is one scandal that the State will not dare allow to be exposed by independent and rigorous public scrutiny. It is one thing to allow kids to be decapitated or orphaned in pursuit of national security but it is another level of depravity – as far as the public is concerned – to allow them to be molested.

    Here is what Judge Cory had to say about the Inquiries Act: “it seems to me that the proposed new Act would make a meaningful inquiry impossible. The Commissions would be working in an impossible situation. For example, the Minister, the actions of whose ministry was to be reviewed by the public inquiry would have the authority to thwart the efforts of the inquiry at every step. It really creates an intolerable Alice in Wonderland situation. There have been references in the press to an international judicial membership in the inquiry. If the new Act were to become law, I would advise all Canadian judges to decline an appointment in light of the impossible situation they would be facing. In fact, I cannot contemplate any self-respecting Canadian judge accepting an appointment to an inquiry constituted under the new proposed Act”.

    Amnesty International also called of the judiciary not to serve on any inquiry undertaken under the Act, declaring that “any inquiry would be controlled by the executive which is empowered to block public scrutiny of state actions.”

  • Jimmy_Sands

    Inquiry into what? We know what happened. Terrorists acted with impunity within their own communities and the state tacitly accepted it. What else is an Inquiry going to tell us.

    What’s odd about Ms. McAliskey’s call for an Inquiry is that she has been a vociferous critic of the Saville boondoggle, and for similar reasons.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Alias, it’s easy to tell you’re a lawyer. Only a member of NI’s legal profession would be so arrogant to pretend that the entire edifice is corrupt up as far as his own front door.

  • Reader

    Alias/Cory/Amnesty: For example, the Minister, the actions of whose ministry was to be reviewed…
    any inquiry would be controlled by the executive which is empowered to block public scrutiny of state actions.

    Those seem to relate to a different context from what is considered here. Surely even an avid conspiracy theorist would recognise that the Godfathers are fast approaching their sell-by date, and an inquiry will find as much as it is competent to find, nailing a few subcultures, capos, detectives and social workers along the way.