Assembly Wants All-Party Talks on Dealing with the Past

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).

Stormont Today

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.’

UTV Dealing with the Past

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.

For example:

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, here’s link to yesterday’s Hansard report: Dealing with the Past.

  • Drumlins Rock

    maybe slugger otoole should also convene “all commentator talks” on dealing with the past, it continuosly crops up on here derailing many topic that are firmly based in the present. The discussions aren’t always futile either, I have learnt from them, so in any process there is scope to at least clarify some issues, agreeing a narative of the past might even be possible, obviously with some grey areas where agreement can’t be reached.

    I wonder are the current leading MLAs the right ones to carry out the discussion though, possibly it is something for those who now occupy the back benches to look at, even if they were part of the story they also dont have to worry about current political power games as much.

  • BluesJazz

    Well, Jim Allister is certainly dealing with past and present..

  • Thanks for the links … interesting.

  • “Encouraging people tell to significant others

    What does ‘significant others’ mean?

    Did we have an example of it yesterday when David Kelly spoke to Martin McGuinness yesterday?

    Could a recent victim of a paramilitary organisation go to the police to tell his or her story without fear of retribution? Could a newspaper publish the victim’s evidence without endangering the victim?

    Perhaps those who are promoting these strategies are being rather naive about outcomes.

  • The Executive is all-Party. This is purely passing the responsibility on to others to ‘do something’. That the all-party Executive can’t do this for themselves says everything.

    No doubt the rent-seekers are looking for a new payday, and London to stump up the cash. Or perhaps the executive too busy on its programme for Government or CSI papers.

  • What the Assembly WANTS…… accord with the wishes of the electorate is for the issue to go away. Nobody did anything more than humour the Conflict Resolution Industry by paying some lip service to them.

    If the Assembly really WANTED this…… seems odd that they have not done so before.
    And perhaps the “industry” should have brought in the Assembly before. Perhaps a sign of desperation that they have actually brought in “elected” representatives rather than the usual unelected suspects..

    So whats been agreed?
    Well…..that old kick for touch tactic………convene all party talks…..which will produce a minimalist attitude. A meaningless result. Because all party talks never produce anything. And on the rare occasions when they do……it takes years.

    My esteemed colleague in Healing Thru Amnesia, Mr “Drumlins Rock” hits the nail on the head. Yesterdays debate was risible and we must counter it.
    For several years, we have all deferred to the Conflict Resolution industry as wrong-headed but well-meaning. But their tactics as well as flawed conclusions (Eames-Bradley) has galvinised people of different traditions…but not in the way that they had hoped.
    We must continue to expose this dangerous folly.

  • Granni Trixie

    First of all,Sheenan esentialises WB as in “my community’s experience of the RUC”. Has he not the capacity to grasp its diversity to get beyond his personal experience?

    Cheap “industry” remarks from the ditch (see, an expression Ive picked up on Slugger) gets tedious, potentially in the way of the creativity needed around such challenging issues. And let me get in first – I have no paid employment in that industry but I have listened to heart wrenching stories from victims/survivors:
    of the Troubles,
    of ordinary crime
    of historical,insitutional abuse,
    Thats all I need to know to know that I want to support the Exeuctive, Healing through remembering, etc etc. and no apologies.

  • galloglaigh

    Well, Jim Allister is certainly dealing with past…

    Jim Allister is stuck in the past.

    What is needed, is for the British government and its Crown Forces’ role to be out in the open. They must accept their role. I’m not saying they are the only ones. Sinn Fein members (elected or not), DUP/TUV members (elected or not)/ UUP members (elected or not), and all the protagonists, who led, set up, or ran paramilitary groups, also need to tell their stories.

  • Jimmy Sands

    The idea appears to be for public funds to be applied so as to provide a framework in which the protagonists can carry on lying about what they did in a more structured way. To any politician who says he wants the truth, go ahead, no-one’s stopping you. I don’t imagine anyone’s holding their breath.

  • ForkHandles

    Well, if they really have to do this then it should be done as cheaply as possible and out of the way so it doesn’t impact on important work that people need to get done. Perhaps a leisure centre hall could be rented for a few hours 1 evening mid week every month for a year. Then it could be filled with those cheap all in one moulded plastic chairs with the metal legs. You know the ones were if you lean back, the chair bends and nearly breaks in 2 .. The entire event could be videoed and converted to avi files that could be downloaded from some NI gov website. Disk space is cheap these days so there would be no need to edit the video, further saving in costs.

    This would be the best way for people to find out what ‘the past’ is. In the hall, everyone would be able to have their go at coming up with great buzz words and phrases to make other people look as bad as possible. This is of course what dealing with ‘the past’ is all about for those that feel the need to ‘deal with’ it. Once everyone has had their chance to speak then the past would be completely dealt with. Job done!

    For other people who didn’t experience ‘the past’ they would have no need to look up archives or history books or the usual sort of reference material that a researcher might have to go through. All they would need would be an internet connection and a video player able to play AVI files.

  • granni trixie,
    youre to be congratulated on listening to a variety of heart wrenching stories from victims and survivors. Im sure you would not mean to give the impression that you have listened more (or indeed less) than the rest of us in the ditch.

  • Fork Handles puts it very well.
    As any Historian knows the archive is already there to be evaluated.
    There is no need for the Voyeurism of Conflict Resolution.

    Conflict Resolution is to History what Astrology is to Astronomy.
    No Astonomer takes Astrology seriously.
    No Historian takes Conflict Resolution seriously.

    Unfortunately Conflict Resolutionists use words like Victims and Survivors so we are obliged to feel guilty for questioning the value of it all.

    ………Indeed they even use the Victims and Survivors themselves like Human Shields……….as indeed all organisations in our Troubles used their dead as a mechanism for making us feel guilty or embarrassed.
    Call the Bluff.
    Get off our Backs.

  • Wasted Ballot

    Sadly, this is a predictable situation…. All-Party Talks = SF dicating to everyone what will happen.