Dealing with the past: Conflicting schools of thought…

Political Studies AssociationFascinating and genuinely insightful paper from Dr Cillian McGrattan of the University of the West of Scotland and Dr Maíre Braniff of the University of Ulster which was presented at the PSA’s Annual Conference today… It’s particularly enlightening with regard to a much discussed topic on Slugger, i.e. Dealing with the Past

Whilst I would urge you to read the whole thing, I was particularly intrigued in their identification of the endogenous factors in how the past has been dealt with, not least the central role played by the Bradley Eames consultation in defining the current terms of the debate:

The DUP-Sinn Féin détente. An argument could be made in retrospect that the era of truth recovery was effectively over before the Consultative Group on the Past published its report: having aligned themselves to victims’ groups during the first half of the decade, both the major parties have, since assuming power in 2007, noticeably recoiled from earlier positions. While accepting that victims’ groups also played a part in that alignment, victims themselves have ended up as the main losers in the loss of party political interest: while recognition was once dependent on favourable attitudes to certain political parties, even public acknowledgement is no longer guaranteed.

2. Consultative Group on the Past. The furore over the proposal for a £12,000 compensation payment undoubtedly cast a shadow over the Group’s other proposals. While many of these were based more on wishful thinking, naïve political judgement and if not questionable moral assumptions then certainly a poorly thought-out attitude to the question of accountability for the perpetration of violence, the Report still seemingly frames the debate. In part, this can be attributed to the residual traction of a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission idea, which can arguably be seen to place an emphasis on the latter concept (reconciliation at all costs) to the detriment of the former (when ‘truth’ is linked to political, ethical and legal accountability and the recovery and scrutiny of historical facts).

3. Victims. While the victims’ lobby has experienced a reduction in its opportunities to pursue an overarching truth recovery process it can be said with some degree of certainty that victims’ narratives will remain highly contested for the foreseeable future, not least due to the work of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET).

And they go on to identify two conflicting schools of thought on how to deal with the bloody inheritance of Northern Ireland’s past:

1. Unpicking the past may endanger fragile social cohesion in the present. The emblematic case in this instance is the Spanish pacto de olvido. The pact was not so much a commitment to forgetting, but was rather an informal understanding reached in the post-Franco era among Spain’s political elites to not talk about the past in ways that would create political capital in the present.

2. Leaving questions unanswered about what took place may lead to the festering of wounds and the deepening of division. Here, the paradigmatic example is the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which awarded amnesties for cases of violence and human rights abuse that were judged to be politically motivated.

You can read the rest here

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