The past is often treated like a political football. Politicians take sides and blame the referee if he does not agree with them.
The Historical Enquiries Team is a case in point. Up to now it has been mainly loyalists who have cursed this ref, accusing him of picking on them and turning a blind eye to republican foul play.
This weekend the HET is taking flak from the opposite side because it is challenging the republican narrative of a high-minded freedom fight, eventually brought to a successful conclusion by power-sharing with the DUP.
This will not be the judgment of history.
The overall picture of the IRA campaign is one in which the security forces and the weight of public opinion, not always acting in concert, gradually wore down an armed resistance.
The violence was ended because, although it could have been continued for some years, it was incapable of advancing its desired objectives.
It was ended on the best terms available, but terms which had nonetheless been rejected at an earlier stage.
He goes on to point out
The rhetoric of Sinn Féin politicians shows the contradictions. Barry McElduff, whose own brother-in-law Paddy Kelly led the IRA assault at Loughgall, tried to deal with this unpalatable truth as he remembered the deaths.
“If it was a war then the British Government are wrong – they have said all along it wasn’t a war. They were bound by the laws of democracy, law enforcement and all of that, and if that’s the case then they should have attempted to arrest them,” he said.
His only way to make his point is to accept the British Army’s contention that it was not a war that was being fought. His suggestion that the republicans should have been arrested risks implying that it was simply a matter of law enforcement and crime prevention.
If the men who died had been arrested, they would have held themselves to be soldiers – prisoners of war – when they were shot, they were civilians.
Such distinctions were hard fought over in the Troubles, but now the way to move forward may be to accept the tragedy of what happened in those wasted years without indulging in double think.
So far, there seems to have been little reaction to Liam Clarke’s other recent report – on the HET review of the 1987 Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen…
A major report into the Enniskillen Poppy Day massacre has found that the IRA deliberately targeted civilians with a no-warning bomb.
The report by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has also concluded that the terror group had planned another and possibly more serious atrocity, just 20 miles away on the same day.
If this second bomb had detonated it would have killed a number of children.
Survivors of the November 1987 bombing expect the damning report to be published early in the new year and have been given some clues to its contents.
Living History 1968-74
A unique, once-in-a-lifetime 10-week course at Stranmillis University College Belfast featuring live, in-depth interviews with leading figures from this tumultuous era in Northern Ireland’s cultural and political history.
Live interviews with: Bernadette McAliskey, Austin Currie, Brid Rogers, Baroness Blood, Dennis Bradley, Baroness Paisley, Lord Kilclooney, Tim McGarry, Danny Morrison, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield and others…