Following yesterday’s Assembly debate, it looks like the Secretary of State will be asked to convene all-party talks on how to deal with the past.
Speaking on the BBC’s Stormont Today, Victims Commissioner Brendan McAllister said that:
‘presumably its (the Assembly’s) view (that there should be all-party talks on the past) will be conveyed to the Secretary of State.’
I’ve not seen anything more definite than this reported in the press (on the video below, McAllister says this roughly 28.23 into the programme).
Excerpts from the debate on Stormont Today illustrated just how contentious such talks could be (the excerpts can be viewed from the beginning of the programme until about the 8.15 mark). McAllister acknowledged this but said at the conclusion of the programme – with admirable optimism – that the debate had shown that there was ‘material around which to work.’
Another report on UTV characterised the debate as concluding that the parties are ‘mostly in agreement … something needs to be done.’
Alliance’s Chris Lyttle, who is interviewed along with the DUP’s David McIlveen on UTV, says that the Secretary of State should convene the all-party talks ‘as quickly as possible.’
On Stormont Today, Lyttle is shown relating statistics that demonstrate just how deeply effected the Northern Ireland population has been by the Troubles (for example, an estimated 30% of the population has been directly effected).
The contributions from the other parties were predictable. ‘Quite a depressing debate, all in all,’ is how the Stormont Today presenter described it.
Sinn Fein’s Pat Sheehan asks ‘unionism’ to acknowledge that people where he was from had a different experience of the RUC, saying that if ‘we can agree to that we can agree to move forward.’ The DUP’s Sydney Anderson calls on people like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to come clean about their pasts. Tom Elliot of the UUP warns that we will never get the truth, and the SDLP’s Alban Maginnis says that there was no justification for republican violence – and that republicans should recognise that now.
McAllister’s commentary on the debate is sensitive and thoughtful, and reflects his involvement with victims and survivors through his work. He knows that dealing with the past is not an easy option, not least because Northern Ireland has competing versions of the past and facing up to that will be risky and painful.
McAllister says that Northern Ireland needs ‘a serious examination of what is meant by truth,’ one which goes beyond establishing bare facts. For him, ‘truth is a multi-layered, complex thing’ and that currently most parties are putting forward only ‘partial’ versions of truth. For him, truth includes:
- Discovering what people thought they were doing (presumably when they carried out violence) during the Troubles
- Creating spaces for conversation between those who offended and those who were offended
- Encouraging people tell to significant others what the past was like for them and what was done to them, and the impact that suffering and trauma had on them (storytelling)
McAllister also says that we should not shy away from talking about justice, which will involve asking questions about ‘who did it, what happened, and how they can be held to account.’
In the UTV interview, Lyttle acknowledges the work of various other groups on issues related to Northern Ireland’s violent past, such as the Victims Commission. He rejects the suggestion that all of these should be scrapped in favour of a single ‘truth commission,’ saying that we need an ‘overarching framework’ so that Northern Ireland can deal with the past in a ‘coordinated manner.’
Gladys is a Research Fellow in the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. She also blogs on religion and politics at www.gladysganiel.com