Platform for Change Event on Dealing with the Past, 5 September in the Black Box

Platform for Change is organising an event on ‘Dealing with the Past’ in conjunction with its next meeting, set for Monday 5 September at 7.30 pm in the Black Box, Belfast.

The Platform for Change PfC website describes the event this way:

The meeting will begin with a dramatic presentation by the women who comprise Theatre of Witness of their personal stories of Northern Ireland’s troubled past. This will stimulate a general discussion, amid the continuing controversy over the appointment of an individual convicted of the murder of a civilian as a ministerial special adviser and as a decade of centenaries approaches which will revisit the region’s formative violent years.

I am sympathetic to stimulating fresh thinking around the political themes that PfC, according to its latest campaign newsletter, has identified as its priorities for 2011-2012:

  • The programme for Government/Budget
  • Governance Structures
  • Dealing with the Past

The latest PfC newsletter also raises some possible campaigning points for the group:

  • Three S’s: shared future, social inclusion, sustainable development
  • Government by agreement, opposition by right
  • Come clean: honesty about paramilitary and sectarian pasts

And the newsletter includes proposals to form working groups and a campaign team that would produce policy papers, communicate messages through conventional media and the internet, and lobby politicians around these campaigning points.

After PfC’s annual general meeting in June, Brian Walker contributed a useful analysis of the group and its goals. I share his sympathy for the group, as well as some of his concerns.

For example, Walker picks up on a certain antipathy to the ‘Executive Parties’ (read: the DUP and Sinn Fein) among people involved with PfC. In the PfC events that I have attended, I have noted politicians from Alliance, the SDLP, the UUP and some smaller parties, but not yet the DUP or Sinn Fein. As Walker writes:

Progress can only be made through or around the Executive parties; certainly not in conflict with them. Campaigning for realignment at this stage is therefore counterproductive.

I read this as Walker arguing that PfC should back off for awhile from pushing debate around governance structures, and to instead focus on what he identifies as ‘other causes’:

In open consultation and debate and with added expertise it [PfC] could facilitate coherent policies on local taxation and harmonisation with the Republic’s economy; the use of the Irish language, the extent of a human rights culture and dealing with the past as well as the live legacy of paramilitarism.

I also would be concerned that PfC’s three themes are too broad and too diffuse for what is currently a small group to tackle efficiently and effectively.

But I welcome the focus of this latest evening on Dealing with the Past. This is an issue that is not ‘going away,’ signalling that Northern Ireland requires some different policies and approaches. Further, it’s plausible that Dealing with the Past is a more ‘manageable’ issue for PfC – a timely one that does not have to appear to set the group up in opposition to particular party political agendas.



  • With respect the issue of Dealing With The Past HASNT gone away…..but only in the same sense that the Monty Python Parrot hasnt gone away.
    It sounds like an interesting event but alas I cant go.

    If re-allignment is an issue, then it can hardly surprise that the DUP or Sinn Fein are not involved. Turkeys hardly vote for Christmas.
    The list of signatories to Platform for Change predictably includes academics such as Gladys Ganiel, Dominic Bryan, Robin Wilson, and others who have a proven and honourable track record in this kinda thing.
    And indeed Trevor Ringland, for whom I have a lot of time for RUC Victims and others from various Victim Groups.

    But ignoring those on the list who are are involved in politics in a purely private capacity, there is no real comfort for Platform for Change in the list of politicians involved.
    My cursory glance shows only one Alliance MLA (Stephen Farry) and only a few others who are publicly Alliance (Billy Webb, Brice Dickson, Bill Jeffrey) as well as Steven Agnew of the Greens.
    As far as I can see Conall McDevitt is the only SDLP MLA and there are a few other SDLP councillors.
    The unionists include Independent (I think) Deirdre Nelson and Stephen Warke, Lesley Macauley, NBill Manwaring and Mark Finlay, all who might be considered on the UUP left. (a relative term).
    Now there is a Second XI aspect to some of the names. People who are ambitious councillors and a third tier of people who are wannabe politicians and not quite made up their minds about which Party can advance a career in their locality.

    But I think it would be wrong to castigate DUP and SF for non involvement when only a handful of politicians from any Party are involved. The lack of enthusiasm runs thru ALL Parties.
    Only one nationalist professional politician.
    No Unionist professional politician. And none who are “mainstream”.

  • I have been asked if this Event is for the Public as well as PFC members. Can Gladys Ganiel or other PfC member confirm?
    Thank you.

  • It was actually open to non members and I went along for the craic.
    Effectively it was in two sessions. The first featured a group of mostly Derry women from a “theatre group”….and I think this might be the same production dismissed by a theatre director at the IBIS seminar in March.
    In actual fact I found the stories very moving. Everyone did. But the point was that these were personal reflections…often with the Troubles as a background rather than “central”.

    That the women were brave, articulate and empowered was obvious but I saw no direct “evidence” that what was good for them was good for us all.

    Their stories were stories of ordinary women. And perhaps the shock was that the well heeled, academic audience members were “shocked”. Where have they been living all these years? Well seemingly USA, Germany and England.

    We have all got stories.
    I stated that there might be 400,000 people still alive who were adults during the Troubles and that we are a dying breed. actually a person better able to judge said it was nearer 500,000 but the key point which he acknowledged was that not many in the general community are bothered about the past.
    He quoted figures in confidence which he asked us not to broadcast……..

    So who actually is driving this nonsense which refuses to just lie down and die. People spoke of the expense of the Truth and was it worth it…… (well of course it isnt!) and I put forward my own preference for Healing Thru Amnesia being as valid a response to dealing with the Past ….if thats what works and tinkering about with the Good Friday Agreement and risking its gains to satisfy the intellectual cravings of academics must be resisted.