Haunted is a good word for the core subject of Robin Wilson’s op ed in the Belfast Telegraph today. The past haunts all the players to one degree or another. He echoes DPP Barra McGrory’s concern that treating all matters via the judicial route is not the most desirable means of moving forward.
As Tim Garton Ash has noted, there has been no catharsis of victory:
…the new anti-Jacobin model of revolution, with its surreal encounters of former prisoners and their former jailers and torturers, requires painful, morally distasteful compromise. There is no great moment of revolutionary catharsis. The line between bad past and good future is necessarily blurred. This is what the anthropologist Ernest Gellner, referring to the velvet revolution in his native Czechoslovakia, called “the price of velvet”.
Because that is so, the problem of the past comes back to haunt you.
Most of the recent headlines around the past have focused on campaigns by relatives to get justice for the killing of their loved ones over Bloody Sunday, Ballymurphy and the bombing of McGurk’s Bar. But the focus now may be shifting towards the PSNI’s own investigation of the past.
Wilson notes that there are a number of fairly high profile cases in the pipeline:
The HET is going through each death since the Troubles began in chronological order. It will eventually get to 1986 and the IRA killing of the alleged informer Frank Hegarty in Derry, to 1987 and the Remembrance Day bomb in Enniskillen and to 1990 and the death of the so-called ‘human bomb’ Patsy Gillespie and five soldiers at a checkpoint at Coshquin in Co Londonderry.
The name which links these three cases is McGuinness. Now deputy First Minister at Stormont, and having formed half of the ‘Chuckle Brothers’ with Ian Paisley, he claims to have left the IRA in 1974.
In 1990 as the editor of Fortnight magazine, I interviewed him in his office in Derry for an article on the thinking of the IRA in the aftermath of its assassination of the high-profile Conservative Right-winger Ian Gow.
And he notes that the evidence they unearth (which will be released to families of the victims) may have problematic consequences for those current players:
The implication was that the Government had to negotiate with the IRA, having failed to suppress it and so there was to be official silence on paramilitary crimes.
It might have been hoped in London there could be silence, too, on state violence, but public pressure from the families of those murdered prevented that Bloody Sunday.
To comply with today’s international norms, those guilty of war crimes, from whatever quarter, should have faced prosecution, not been given immunity. And the evidence on Adams and McGuinness, as it emerges, will be explosive.
At the same time, it will be hard for the prime minister to keep resisting an inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane, murdered by the UDA, but with the collusion of the shadowy Force Research Unit (FRU) within the Army.
If the weak link in the 1974 power-sharing experiment was the ill-conceived Council of Ireland, failure to deal with the past is the Achilles’ Heel of the current arrangement at Stormont.
The clock is ticking.
Which may go some way to explain the increasing references to the ‘dark side’ of policing in recent communications from Sinn Fein on their conditional support for ‘policing the past’.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty