Is it that easy to forget about the past?

More people on both sides are saying “forget about the past.” Is it as simple as that? Meeting victims of the Troubles, wounded members of the police or army and listening to a woman like Breige Voyle from Ballymurphy in West Belfast whose mother Joan Connolly was shot dead by a paratrooper’s bullet is very convincing of how hard it is to leave the past behind.


  • Realistic Idealist

    A truly complex issue (anyone who thinks otherwise is a moron).

    Not only is the truth about killings and incidents perpetrated by all sides (including those “honest brokers” the British government/MOD) extremely important to the families of the victims in terms of closure and moving on, but in fact the issue runs to the very core of the politics of conflict in Ireland.

    As even a GCSE history student could point out, since Britain has occupied Ireland there have been cycles of resistance. History has repeated itself regularly and periodically, though granted the individual circumstances have been different each time and the methods have evolved with societal and technological changes.

    THEE greatest challenge facing the current efforts for peace is to break this cycle and ensure history does not repeat itself – be under no illusion, in 10 or 20 years time a new generation of young Republicans (I don’t mean mickey mouse dissidents either) could easily return to physical force methods to achieve their aims, should the current arrangements and peace efforts hit the wall. 9/11 changed things, but not that much.

    Therefore bearing that chilling fact in mind, is the reason why I think that getting to the whole truth of the conflict here (or as close to it as practical) is so essential. The full truth of Britain’s dirty war and the oppression of the Northern state has never really been told and for the nationalist and Republican community to truly move on to a different mind set, and for real healing, which addresses nationalist grievances adequately, I think this is essential.

    Clearly the unionist community has suffered greatly also and deserve the truth no less, the very important difference is that all acts by republicans WERE investigated thoroughly by the state and many people were arrested and prosecuted as a result, while on the other hand, acts by the state and collusion with loyalists went largely uninvestigated and often laughed off as republican propaganda.

    That is why yes, all the truth should come out, (Gerry Kelly clearly indicated on Hearts and minds this week that Republicans were more than up for an independent truth recovery process) but I really don’t think the British government/MOD or most unionists are up for it, because in a proper truth recovery process they have much more to loose, by the whole world finding out the truth about the conflict here and indeed the conditions within the northern state which largely caused it. (my personal opinion is the biggest unionist fear is that people the world over sympathise with Republicans and deem their actions justified under the circumstances)

    If for the first time in the history of anglo-irish conflict, the full truth can be told, I believe that a lasting understanding between the people in the north and indeed on these islands can occur and real reconciliation will be possible, breaking the cycle once and for all.

    What the “brush it under the carpet and JUST MOVE ON!” brigade don’t understand, is that if the past is not adequately addressed, if both sides do not educate themselves about the other side and the full reasons for conflict – then sadly history is more likely than not to repeat itself.

    Good or Bad, the truth about the past, is the key to the future here and NOT just for the relatives of victims…

  • Kathy C

    It is very easy to forget about the past…it is Sat. June 19, 2010 and it seems Cameron has already forgotten the seriousness of the british military killing innocent Irish Catholic civilians.
    in the bbc today it is reported:

    “Mr Cameron apologised following the publication of the Bloody Sunday inquiry this week, for what he said were the “unjustified and unjustifiable” actions of British soldiers when 13 people on a civil rights march were killed in in Londonderry 1972.

    “But those wrongs cannot be allowed to cloud the reputation of our Armed Forces and the pride they inspire,” he said.”

    Wow…killing innocent Irish Catholics should not cloud the repution of the british military killers and the pride they inspire.
    Gee it only took 4 days for the british gov’t to come out and praise their military. But then again…they only shot down in cold blood innocent Irish Catholics…maybe this kind of thing STILL inspires the british.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    I think its obscene to even ask such a question. How can people be expected to forget something so horriffic, something that completely blows apart the expected course of your life?

    To be honest, there is as much as case to be brought against the same unit (1 para) for their actions in Ballymurphy six months earlier, where they murdered eleven people. These events do not occour in isolation.

    And, as these wretched individuals continued to serve after both events, we must wonder what other atrocities they committed?

    Any action that resulted in deaths under suspecious circumstances should be investigaged. Otherwise, what’s the point of law and order? It is there not to serve the state but to serve the citizens of the state.

  • Cynic

    |Presumably just as it inspires any country that has ever had a field army in which someone has killed civilians. The issue about the British is that compared to the Americans and many others they seem to have been remarkably inefficient at it in a war that lasted over 40 years.

  • Cynic


    ” they only shot down in cold blood innocent Irish Catholics”

    Actually they didn’t. A good friend of mine was a hard core Prod shot dead in the middle of a gunbattle in the early 1970s. He was an innocent bystander walking along the street when it broke out and took shelter in a doorway. A Loyalist gunman nearby was firing at the Army and a soldier thought he was the gunman and shot him dead. Indeed, the Army initially claimed he was a terrorist.

    The difference was that his father listened to the evidence and accepted it was just a terrible terrible mistake.

    But of course in SF / Republican La La Land EVERY Irish Catholic is totally innocent (even those with riles in their hands) and every solder a blood soaked murderer

  • Dec

    “”Indeed, the Army initially claimed he was a terrorist.”

    How long did it take the army to admit he wasn’t? 38 years?

  • Cynic

    I don’t think we should expect families to forget the past – it would be a nonsense to even suggest that. But there is a difference between those families and the majority of the population – many of whom weren’t even born when the Troubles (as such) ended. and those who carry the burden of that pain and suffering.

    While we should respect and support the families and those personally injured, I don’t think that means we should assume that they have a veto on our future development as a society. the closest analogy I can come up with is the period after the Second World War. It took 20+ years but gradually the recriminations stopped and we began to move on in our relations with Germany and Japan.

    In NI its been 15 years and there’s no sign of it. Ok, civil wars are more intense and vivid for people, but does it make a material difference if your father or mother was killed by a German bomb or a PIRA one?

    As a society it is time to put the past behind us and move on in a shared future

  • joeCanuck

    In discussion like this one, a word that often gets used/bandied about, is closure
    The is no such thing as closure, Al that happens is that,as time passes, the grief is felt less often and sometimes is less intense.
    So, Is it that easy to forget about the past?. The answer is most definitely No, for most people.

  • Realistic Idealist

    Cynic – you just don’t get where Republicans are coming from at all, (maybe you don’t want to) there is quite a difference between the situation in Ireland and the conventional wars you speak of. I spoke in my previous post of the cycle of rebellion which has characterised Ireland’s response to britains continued occupation of (any part) Ireland.

    Without the truth about the conflict and the reasons behind it coming out, the eternal sore which every generation of Irish patriots feel, will continue to fester and if the current efforts for peace ever do falter, that void will inevitably be filled at some point by armed struggle, as sure as night follows day.

    wee anecdote to illustrate my point: a good number of years ago, there were 4 or 5 (i think) men from dublin arrested for paramilitary activity and charged with PIRA membership, all were from dublin so none had experienced direct oppression in the north, the average age was 12 at the time of 1994 ceasefire and the question was asked by media commentators… WHY? i’ll let you ponder the answer

    A truth process which educates both sides to the reasons for conflict and allows ex-combatants to put across to the next generation the horrors of armed conflict and most importantly for Republicans, the british are at last exposed for the ACTUAL role they played in the dirty war, is in my opinion the best way to break the cycle and prevent history repeating itself. (now i’m repeating myself)

  • Nunoftheabove

    Realistic Idealist

    It won’t happen because almost all parties to the conflict have something to fear from the truth, not least SF/PIRA, and that’s just the political light that it may cast across their ideology, leaving entirely aside the military casualties part of the prosecution of their war and the ‘dirtiness’ harbouring in the shadows there.

    Thus far, the fudge has held inasfar as none of the significant agreements reached between the parties and two governments actrually spells out what the nature of the problem was to which these agreements presume to provide any solution (behold, constructive ambiguity). That’s hugely different to South Africa for example where there was never any doubt about what the problem was or the solutiuon that was required at the end of the process. A truth process in/for NI may cast more light on the arguably altogether bogus bases for the conflict than most/any of the participants may care to contemplate, still less answer for, and possibly rightly so.

  • Cynic


    You just don’t get where Unionists are coming from do you. The Brits don’t ‘occupy’ part of Ireland. I and my ilk in the North West have lived here for hundreds of years. In the case of my own family far longer than the settlers have been in the good ole US of A. It is my country that I occupy and I intend to stay there and i want it to remain British. Capiche?

    You also seem to suggest that in some way I am racially different from the Native Catholic Irish who ‘own’ this land. I am not,. Look at a;ll the genetic studies. The ancient Celtic Ireland crap is a myth. Genetically we are all intermarried – a mongrel race of Scots, Irish, French, English, Vikings with a both of North Africa and Italy thrown in.

    Of course there are nutters on both sides brought up on the racists myths of republicanism and loyal;ism who believe in their ersatz racial purity. So what? we just have to cope with them by enforcing the rule of law.

    You want the truth behind the conflict to come out? Ok, but it has to be an open and balanced process. So where was McGuinnesses’s missing 20 mins, why did he misled the Tribunal, what was his machine gun for, who murdered the 2 police officers on 12th January and who ordered it? Who mombld la Mon and Who ordered it? Who asked Father McChesney to murder his own parishoners in Caludy?

  • Realistic Idealist

    Just to clarify, when referring to the british I meant the british establishment (government and MOD), I regard unionists as Irish (but accept your right to be british) and I am not into any of this racial “native catholic irish” crap that others may well believe in. I totally recognise the rights of all who have settled here to live here and would have it no other way, as the protestant unionist tradition adds to the cultural diversity which makes us who we are on this island. Just to make that clear.

    I had half a response typed out there, but then i caught myself on, I had previously promised myself not to get into pointless endless debate, i think slugger is an interesting site, but i’m not going to waste my time, as roughly 99.7% of posters have concrete views and theres not much point trying to debate with someone who is not open to the possibility of changing their opinions.

    so in keeping with the promise to myself, enjoy chasing your tail, cheerio!

  • Comrade Stalin

    That’s the thing that’s really interesting about politics here. The families of the victims, who lost love ones, are able to accept the apology and take comfort in the British government’s report into the attacks. But certain bitter wankers who don’t even live here take it upon themselves to get outraged on their behalf.

  • Cynic

    Likewise…at least we can agree on that

  • Clanky

    There is a difference between forgetting about the past and moving on without allowing the past to define the future.

    I don’t think that anyone could reasonably expect those who lived through the troubles to forget, however, if we don’t move on then generations to come will be remembering and our grandchildren will be refusing to co-operate with each other “because of what youse lot did on Bloody Sunday”

    Lets remember the past, but lets remember it as a time best forgotten.

  • Kathy C

    Hi Cynic,
    I commented on the British Prime Minister, Cammeron’s quick turn around from his apology for the indefensivable–shooting to death Irish Catholic innocent civilians participating in a PEACE march….to a mere 4 days later him saying those ‘wrongs’ shouldn’t cloud the respect their armed forces inspire, to quote thatcher…a crime is a crime is a crime…. When the HIGHEST gov’t official of the uk states a mere 4 days after her majesties army were found by a gov’t inquiry that the queens military shot down innocent catholics that the militrary should be respected for the pride they inspire…..I say that statement is totally inappropriate and rather sick. We can discuss other people who have died in the troubles…but I was addressing the prime ministers response the day the report on the deaths of civilians during bloody sunday was issued and 4 days after

  • Nunoftheabove

    Surely it’s a time best learned from and that anything worth learning will only come from an establishment of the truth of the events.

    Saville for example has put the lie to the fairly widely understood/perceived – in non-unionist circles, at any rate – notion that the Stormont government may have had some (and perhaps the decisive) involvement in the planning or sanctioning of the deployment of the parachute regument on Bloody Sunday and what transpired that day. We now know that there is no evidence of that whatsoever and that the atrocity was entirely British. Untruth makes for bad history and I’d have thought that we have a surfeit of that already.


    as a matter of curiousity, what is it about Ireland that made not as easily conquerable/easy to rule as say Wales or Scotland. I mean, why no endless cycles of rebellion there?

    Anyway, families of victims can never forget but we cannot let their personal grief be the manifesto as to how we govern. If France could break bread with Germany to form the seeds of the EU in the early 50s then why are we so special as to be immune from being able to forgive and forget? Or is it that many other countries are led by politicians who have vision and LEAD their people as opposed to Ni where politicians largely FOLLOW theirs?

  • Johnny Boy

    It’s not possible for the victims families or their communities to forget the past, but hopefully we will all be able to accept the past, and respect the price paid by all victims and their families. Then maybe we can accept our present, stop keeping score, and declare the propoganda war over.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Rather sadly the only people capable of “forgetting” are people who were not there in the first place.
    I was somewhat relieved not to be here last week when the Saville Report was published……did not really want to contribute to a dis-spiriting debate on Whataboutery.
    But two nights before publication there was a scene setting report on one of our local news channels and my 18 year old neice was watching and said “whats this……is it something to do with 12th July?”.

    Now shes no half wit. She starts Queens in September (not necessarily a recommendation) and probably atypical. Certainly my own adult children maybe have been told “too much” rather than “nothing”.
    But actually my neice might have had a point.
    My own…..and possibly “our own” Whataboutery is maybe atypical. We are the oddities rather than the younger generation who dont give a tinkers curse about the Troubles.

    Perhaps its sad. Perhaps its good.
    But for many “Whataboutery” has been replaced by “So Whataboutery”.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    Well, Scotland was a state, only sometimes under English rule. Consequently, there simply was’nt always a need for rebellion against the English.

    Wales, on the other hand, was made up of four or five main kingdoms with factional subdivisions. It was only briefly a soveringn united state.

    but if you look closely at the history of both Wales and Scotland, you’ll see that there were indeed a long line of rebellions against its own native rulers and outsiders. The Kings of Scotland had to put down innumerable rebellions within their own realm, not to mention conquoring areas that are now within the state, but at the time were independent (Isle of Man) or semi-independent (Galloway, the Hebredies).

    Wales was smaller, and after Edward I’s near-genocide in the late 1270’s/early80’s, the Welsh as a people were firmly ruled. Until Llwyellen Bren in 1315, and other ‘minor’ revolts that popular history has long forgotten.

    Plus, England was eventually ruled by royal Welsh and Scottish dynasties, Tudor and Stuart. that helped integration.

    Why Ireland? Because we were further away, more expensive to fight, and untill the 16th century no English commander had the stomach to do what needed to be done – which amounted to genocide. Even so, Queen Elizabeth lost army after army in Ireland with very little to show for it; at her death, the country was bankrupted by the Nine Year’s War. The job had, up till then, been less than half-done because successive kings from Henry III onwards were more concerned with France than Ireland.

    Also, why should the Irish fight alongside each other? People were tied to their regional rulers, not the island or nation as a whole. Laigin against Ulaid, Ulaid against Mide, Mide, Ulaid and Laigin against Aileach, Urmumn against Osraighe, Ui Maine against Connachta, et cetra …

    Nationalism as a concept only slowly gained ground, and mainly from the 1530’s onwards as a result of english massacres on us. A ‘Ye Bluddy Sundae’ effect, if you will.