A proposal to help us deal with the past: an effective form of storytelling inside a legal structure

The context

In dealing with the consequences of the conflict, we must maintain a focus on the challenge to build a peaceful, stable and shared society in Northern Ireland, on this island and between these islands. Embedding a sense of interdependence among the people—a vital foundation upon which to build a successful society—should not just be an aspiration but an imperative. Success in this regard would surely be the greatest tribute we could pay to those who died or suffered loss and injury.

Let me begin by painting some context. First of all, we must be realistic and honest with the victims of violence, as to what can be achieved within the political reality of our ‘peace process’.

In that light, a comment by Alan McBride, whose wife was killed in the Shankill Road bomb in 1993, is relevant: ‘Without taking anything away from the personal responsibility of those who planted that bomb, I would also blame the sectarian society that created their mindsets.’

Once the conflict broke out in the late 1960s, many young men and women acted in a manner contrary to their behaviour in a normal society. Harry’s story emphasises this.

Harry’s brother was murdered by the army and it is difficult to understand in the circumstances why the soldiers responsible, when prosecuted, were not convicted. Harry, a teenager at the time, was understandably deeply embittered by the loss of his elder brother. Some republicans began to encourage him to seek revenge. Fortunately, his father recognised what was happening and packed him off to the United States, where he stayed for 18 months. During that time his understandable hurt eased. Otherwise Harry would accept he could have easily been drawn down the path taken by so many that led them into violence.

It is part of our tragic history that too many young people did not escape such influences, blighting their lives as well as those of their victims. This is not to excuse an individual’s actions, including those of some members of the security forces, but it does help us understand why some acted in the way they did during the madness that we call the ‘troubles’.

The components of conflict

Now let us explore the sectarianism and cultural racism (variously anti-Irish and anti-British) which created the foundations for the conflict and, indeed, sustained it. This has the following main elements:—

Exclusive concepts of identity

To define Irishness or Britishness in exclusive ways ignores the reality of the existence of the two main traditions on this island, never mind the increasing diversity of its people, and so is hardly conducive to building an interdependent, peaceful and stable society. A variation on the words of the Ulster poet, John Hewitt, suggest a more inclusive approach and one that is properly reflective of the ‘mongrel’ nature of our make-up. Hewitt described himself thus:

A Belfast man

An Ulster man

An Irishman and British

And those last two are interchangeable

And I am European

And anyone who demeans any one part of me demeans me as a person.

These words help define our Northern Irishness and offer a fairly good template which can be adapted to reflect our increasingly ethnically diverse and hence more socially complex society.

Imagination of the ‘Other’

A major flaw in the construction of difference was the labelling of whole communities that you were opposed to as dangerous and damaging. In our society we too rarely challenged the stereotypes that we were given about the ‘other’ side. The idea that those on the ‘other’ side all felt the same way about conflict and wanted the same things was a nonsense but nonetheless a ‘reality’ in too many unchallenged minds. That imagination also included a middle class who saw the marginalised as the cause of conflict without realising they too played a defining role. A rebuilt society must challenge such myopia and create a space in which identities are more personal, as opposed to fixated upon mythic groups.

Religious intolerance

As Ghandi once said, ‘When I read the scriptures I see Christ. When I meet Christians I don’t!’ If he had visited Ireland he might well have expressed such a view or as the Dalai Lama did say: ‘Nowhere else in this world do two groups of Christians fight.’ Ireland has provided examples of both the best and worst of religion. Killing your neighbour is certainly not at the core of the Christian message. Loving and treating your neighbour as you yourself would like to be treated are and show a better way of sharing the future—one where relationships are built rather than being destroyed.

Politics based on flawed ideologies

Politics, it is said, is about the pursuit of power. In addition it is too often about the manipulation of the masses by the relatively few, for their own benefit rather than that of the wider society, through populist and short-term policies.

In the future all sectors of our society should be more demanding, to ensure that those practising politics do so in a constructive way to secure the common good. In the past the politics of this island too often promoted fear, exclusion, division and victimhood through mutually exclusive nationalisms based on hatred of the other, rather than normal, left/right, issue-based policies. Those who simply wave a flag should be challenged on the paucity of their arguments and their inability to deal with the real issues that affect people’s daily lives.

In the absence of the Civic Forum, the various interest groups that shape civic society—such as employers’ organisations, the trade unions, the third sector, sporting bodies, churches, the media and education—need to play an active and constructive oppositional role, as ‘critical friends’ to elected representatives.

The constitutional issue can also be addressed by purely peaceful means, by building relationships rather than destroying them and through inclusion rather than exclusion. To argue for a Northern Ireland for all or a North of Ireland for all is the right thing to do, as well as strategically making sense depending on one’s political perspective on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. We should show little tolerance for any other method used.

Social structures

Leading separate lives is hardly conducive to a peaceful and stable society. Separate education, religion culture and sport, and other aspects of a divided society, meant it was easy to demonise the other, as they were strangers. There was a failure to address issues such as discrimination, housing and gerrymandering. The Civil Rights Movement was, in its purest arguments, about making Northern Ireland a better place as opposed to the violent campaign of the IRA, which was about undermining and overthrowing the State as well as driving the ‘British’ into the sea.

Poverty and unemployment also create fertile ground for those promoting extremism. So too does a well-heeled group whose material position makes them immune to the realities of live for many. For the middle classes there is a poverty of both the mind and leadership. Hence building a strong economy and an inclusive society will play a vital role in building a shared and better future. A clear commitment needs to be given to that goal as an absolute imperative.


The history of Ireland and the relationships between these islands has too often, though by no means exclusively, been one of violence resulting in human tragedy and damaged relations. In a region with little more than 1½ million people the ‘troubles’ resulted in over 3,600 deaths, thousands more injured and over 20,000 imprisoned (over 12,000 republicans, over 8,000 loyalists). There was also a substantial dislocation of the population in areas of Belfast and Londonderry/Derry in particular and ethnic cleansing in some areas, leaving a legacy of a ‘Balkanised’ region. Its physical manifestations include some 100 ‘peace walls’ and other communal barriers throughout Northern Ireland.

As we look to the future we have a choice. We can either work to break down the barriers, rebuild relationships and construct new ones or do nothing and somehow expect our society not to revisit violent conflict at some stage in the future. If we should have learned anything in Northern Ireland, however, it is that every death causes a ripple of hurt that passes down through the generations.

It is also worthwhile setting out the responsibility for the deaths, taken from the volume Lost Lives:

Republican paramilitaries 2,148

Loyalist paramilitaries 1,071

British Army                                  301


RUC 52

In turn, the following were killed:

Civilians 2,051

Army 503


RUC 312

Republican paramilitaries 394

Loyalist paramilitaries 157

Loyalist paramilitaries killed around 26 members of the IRA, while the IRA killed some 26 loyalists. Each organisation killed more of ‘their own’ than did anyone else.


Dealing with the past must be supported by a strong commitment to reconciliation, to counter-balance the potential for those exposed by the process adopted to promote further conflict to cover their past actions. Yet our political classes too often take divisive positions, while reconciliation projects are driven from the ground up through various organisations and individuals, often at a very local level, lacking the political leadership required.

At the same time it is important that we recognise and hold to internationally recognised norms of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In this respect I would suggest a ‘Statement of Wrongs’ should be drawn up. It was wrong where certain police officers and soldiers acted outside of the law and it was wrong of the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries to use violence to further their aims. It was also wrong to promote exclusive identities of Irishness and Britishness and to feed the hatred of sectarianism and cultural racism. It was also wrong to silence those whose identity was more nuanced—those who could accept an Irish and a British dimension to their lives.

Such individuals as Maurice Hayes, Baroness Nuala O’Loan, Rev John Dunlop, Baroness May Blood, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, Baroness Onora O’Neill, Father Gerry Reynolds, Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley could be asked by civic society to draft this statement. The alternative is to continue the myth that the murders of Bloody Sunday, Kingsmills, Shankill, Greysteel or Warrenpoint and so many other such incidents, were justified.

Using the model of the Leveson inquiry into the press hacking scandal, with agreed terms of reference, again drawn up by the above group, an effective form of storytelling inside a legal structure could be easily established at reasonable cost. Bearing in mind it would be their version of the truth, our society would hear at first hand the experiences of those families so tragically affected by the madness of our conflict.

In conjunction with such an inquiry, there could be further consultation to determine how best to bring those who acted outside the law to account, or to not do so—bearing in mind the state’s responsibilities under the European Convention on Human Rights and, in particular, article 2 guaranteeing the right to life.

It could be structured thus:

  1. There would be a panel of three judges, one of whom could be from outside the United Kingdom or Ireland.
  2. Lawyers would be appointed to assist in the preparation and presentation of the evidence.
  3. Witness evidence would be covered by qualified privilege, to enable as full disclosure as possible. While some names could be included in statements to be put before the judges, there could be restrictions on the use of names in the open forum unless those persons had already been convicted. Contempt proceedings could be brought against anyone who breached the rules.
  4. The number of witnesses would be restricted to those seriously injured or one member of the family of those killed (father, mother, sister, brother, son, daughter, spouse).
  5. Each witness would also be asked to give an opinion on how our society should deal with the legal obligations imposed under the European Convention on Human Rights, in respect of bringing those who acted outside the law to justice—bearing in mind that to do so properly would in all probability make it difficult to sustain the current structure of the political process.
  6. The judges would also make recommendations arising out of the inquiry as to how best the ECHR obligations could be met.

A Day of Private Reflection has already been held, being the 21st June, and it should be continued and its profile increased. The day could include a ‘Promise’ or ‘Statement of Commitment’—to be made by individuals, in schools, in churches and so on—to our society and in particular the victims of the ‘troubles’, that we will work to ensure that we never again allow violence to be used as a means of determining relationships between the people of this island.

The Historical Enquiries Team, the Police Ombudsman’s Office, the Coroner’s Office, the PSNI and the Public Prosecution Service would continue with their respective investigations into cases before them. The inquiry proposed could make recommendations as to how the investigations and justice process should continue after the conclusion of its hearings.

Where it is possible apologies should be issued by the state, through an agreed structure including the Retired Police Officers’ Association and an army equivalent, for any deaths in which they have been involved and the person killed was entirely innocent. Such acknowledgment is important to remove any resulting stigma.

Loyalist and republican paramilitaries, as well as the security services when they acted outside the rule of law, should be encouraged to unambiguously apologise for their past actions. However to say ‘sorry, but it was justified’ is surely unacceptable if we are genuinely striving to ensure that our children are not to repeat the mistakes of our past. A fulsome apology would contribute to reconciliation to some degree.

In ‘dealing with the past’ so far we have stumbled through in an unsatisfactory and disjointed way, with an imbalance to the investigations, inquiries and inquests that have been or are to be carried out. This is unsustainable and if not managed fairly could destabilise the progress that has been made by our society to date.

Concluding comments

One cannot equate the bomber with the bombed. Having said that, because of the mess that our society got into, it is important that all of those who suffered, no matter who they are, should be looked after. That would be part of ensuring that we take this opportunity, so that never again does this island turn to violence to resolve its political or social differences.

At times one wonders whether we have asked too much of ourselves in what we have had to accept, rightly or wrongly, to move our society away from conflict. The words of Michael Longley in his poem ‘Ceasefire’ perhaps best capture this, when King Priam asks for his son Hector’s body to be released to him:

I get down on my knees and do what must be done

And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.

Our child is Northern Ireland and so many victims have quietly allowed our Peace Process to unfold and for that they should be thanked. Through the suggestions in this paper I hope they might help to ensure that important norms are established which create a foundation for a genuinely shared future for all of us.

We might also reflect on the words of Krystyna Chiger, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust. Asked in a recent interview whether she bore any resentment to the Germans, she replied: ‘I don’t feel any anger towards the younger generation. They should not suffer because of what their grandparents and parents did.’

Many of us have much to be angry about. But the challenge is surely to ensure that we do not let that anger shape the views of our children, to the extent that it blights their future as well as ours.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally prepared and published by Trevor Ringland under the auspices of Platform for Change.

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  • Charco

    This is certainly interesting, but surely we are ignoring the fact that people are voting for political parties who represent their ideological beliefs. They are also sending them to divided schools to maintain a long-held sense of community. While this committee sounds great, sectarianism and ‘otherhood’ exists because some people are sectarian, or vote on divided lines in order to have some form of representation. There is a reason this hasn’t happened, though it is thought provoking.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I agree with much of your piece and I think the analysis of where we are and what the problem is is spot on.

    I’m less sure about the proposals. They’re not bad but they’re not a game-changer either. There a few specific issues I would flag:

    – “There would be a panel of three judges, one of whom could be from outside the United Kingdom or Ireland.” Why have judges, if it’s about story-telling? It introducing a legal or quasi-legal element, which raises (false) expectations of “justice” being achieved through the process. How the process is framed is crucial and I would worry that something quasi-legal gives us the worst of both worlds.

    – “Each witness would also be asked to give an opinion on how our society should deal with the legal obligations imposed under the European Convention on Human Rights, in respect of bringing those who acted outside the law to justice—bearing in mind that to do so properly would in all probability make it difficult to sustain the current structure of the political process.”
    Two issues here: (1) I’m not sure how informative or useful witnesses’ opinions on something as involved as the social implications of the ECHR would be (writing as a social researcher and former lawyer here); and
    (2) here’s the key bit, that there is a clash between the needs of justice and the current political process. Many senior Sinn Fein figures would be in jail now and would be permanently barred from office, if justice had been allowed to take its course. But politically, this is impossible because of the number of people voting for former terrorists. As you point out, the Troubles mainly consisted of Republican terror, accounting directly for about 60 per cent of the deaths, as well as their “Armed Struggle” attempted land grab being the driving force behind the Troubles for most of their duration. But the reality is any story-telling exercise is going to be limited in its effect, because voters have effectively protected Republicans politically from due legal process.

    I suspect the answer instead lies in two developments that need to happen simultaneously:
    (1) the moving aside of the generation of politicians, over the next 10-20 years, who were politically and in some cases criminally active during the Troubles years
    (2) the sharing of basic Troubles facts, such as the CAIN statistics on attacks and deaths, across the whole community. People would still be free to weave their own narratives around it – but there should be a common knowledge of who died and who killed them.

    Putting these together could transform the way we all regard the Troubles and undermine support for those on both sides who have made excuses for extra-legal violence. It’s important the next generation of politicians can genuinely think afresh and not be befuddled by the same old self-serving myths about what happened.

  • ayeYerMa

    It would also help if Trevor Ringland did not help perpetrate the myths of “housing”, “discrimination” and “civil rights”.

    Dangerous also is the myth that “the Troubles” also only started in the 60s/70s. Northern Ireland being under continuous insurgent attack from Republicans since before any Northern Ireland government sat. I believe also that framing the Republican surrender as a “peace process” is a mistake which merely blurs the main cause of our problems.

  • dwatch

    Its ok for me who never had any members of my family die in the troubles, but to I doubt if I could find forgiveness towards the this woman’s cowardly murderers if I had been this woman’s husband.

    Family make appeal to find IRA killers

  • lamhdearg2


  • This is a well written piece. The analysis is spot on but I, like Mainland Ulsterman and others would doubt the effectiveness of the proposals. A precondition is the requirement of commitment and, unfortunately, that is where they fall down. Only the very enlightened would be committed and there are not enough who yet fit into that category.

    The Good Friday agreement set up a sectarian constitution for a sectarian society. It will be ready for left-right politics eventually, when the majority of the population here is ready. I am confident that change for the better will continue but we need to accept that this will only happen in baby steps and slow incremental evolution – not in giant radical leaps and bounds.

  • tyrone_taggart

    “Our child is Northern Ireland ”

    Its a one parent family. Apart from the Northern Ireland football team and MLA’s making a living in Belfast there is not much sign of it?

    As for:

    “ethnic cleansing in some areas”

    Which areas are you on about?

  • Mick Fealty
  • Turgon

    Ringland makes a long but carefully argued case. It is well worth reading but then well worth disagreeing with him where one does so. Therein lies the centrality of the point.

    Ringland states: “Those who simply wave a flag should be challenged on the paucity of their arguments” However, he is waving a flag himself and Platform for Change His and theirs is a legitimate position but it is just as much a “flag” and its supporters “flag wave” just as much for it as do the flag wavers of other groups.

    Ringland quotes Alan McBride: “would also blame the sectarian society that created their mindsets.”. McBride is entitled to his view (he has paid a very heavy price through no fault of his own which entitles him to speak). However, the idea that society is to blame is by no means universally accepted. Most people here feel we have absolutely nothing to apologise for regarding the Troubles. McBride is entitled to his position but I observe that I know no other victims who agree with him and most of society sides with them and against McBride.

    Ringland in common with many Liberal Dissidents goes on to discuss the concept of us all bearing some responsibility at least for the context of the Troubles. This highly nebulous and ill defined concept has also been rejected by most here in Northern Ireland. The enthusiasm some have for this borders on a sort of Blood Libel against Northern Ireland’s citizens (no disrespect to Alias) and is as nonsensical as the original blood libel against the Jews.

    This statement from Ringland is interesting:
    “The idea that those on the ‘other’ side all felt the same way about conflict and wanted the same things was a nonsense but nonetheless a ‘reality’ in too many unchallenged minds.”

    The idea that is was a reality in many minds is also a nonsense. Indeed despite the caveats there is the clear implication that Ringland thinks this is how we all thought but is too clever to admit it.

    However, on the middle class Ringland (like many in the middle class) is totally flawed. The uninvolved but still “defining” middle class. Those the ones who did their professional jobs for all without fear or favour (like I have no doubt Ringland). Those who provided employment despite their shops and businesses being destroyed or boycotted? The vast majority of the middle class just like the vast majority of the working class bear absolutely no responsibility, guilt etc. and should hold their heads high over what they did and did not do during the Troubles.

    Quoting the comments from the Dali Lama is simply bizarre: in the Southern USA there have been racist murders of blacks by whites: almost all of both sides in such cases are not merely Christian but Protestants. In addition the Dali Lama seems unaware of the religious make up of Croatia during its war with Serbia. Religion here was a lazy shorthand for ethnicity and a man as clever as Trevor Ringland should not perpetuate the quite dishonest fiction that this was a religious conflict. The fact that the Dali Lama said it simply shows that he (the Dali Lama) did not know what he was talking about on this issue.

    The proposals are flawed which is unsurprising proceeding as they do from a position so utterly flawed.

    Ringland is a lawyer and must know that international standards of law require prosecution of criminals where possible yet such seems to receive little comment in the proposals.

    Ringland refers to the Leveson Enquiry but fails to point out that alongside that enquiry there have been arrests and there may very well be prosecutions. Again whataboutery is important and appropriate: whatabout Steven Lawrence; whatabout Jennifer Cardy. Does Ringland think their murderers should have been prosecuted after all those years? If no why not and if yes then why are the other dead different. International law says they are not.

    Ringland asks for a group of unelected people who look suspiciously like “Liberal Dissidents” to draft a statement: No they have no mandate to do that and if we asked them to do it we or our elected representatives would have to vote to accept or reject it; annoying thing this democracy lark.

    Then more worryingly it suggests that this unelected group have a say on the continuance or otherwise of the legal process which is completely unacceptable in a democracy and comes back to my comments above about international standards of law as well as Steven Lawrence and Jennifer Cardy.

    Ringland suggests a “Statement of Wrongs” However, that is a form of collective guilt: a concept rejected in law and morality. Individuals may state they did wrong; groups of individuals did wrong. However, collective guilt is unacceptable. Even with terrorists this is the case. All in the IRA have done wrong. However, the IRA murderer is more culpable than the person who only hid guns or was only a member. Law recognises those distinctions: Ringland’s proposals specifically nullify it.

    Ringland goes on to suggest a promise or commitment be made in schools etc. Such a suggestion in a school sounds like a Liberal dissident form of Orwellian double speak and totalitarianism. What if I do not want my child involved in such a thing?

    Ringland concludes by quoting a Polish Jewish lady on the holocaust. However, his proposals are almost the precise opposite of what she says and what most Jews demanded after the holocaust namely: The prosecution without fear or favour of the criminals and not handing over the guilt of the past to the next generation. Almost the opposite of Ringland’s proposals.

    Ringland is of course entitled to say whatever he wants as is Platform for Change. However, it must be remembered that these sorts of proposals have been put to the people of Northern Ireland time after time in various guises and on each occasion have been rejected by the population and by our elected representatives. As such leaving aside their other flaws they should not and must not be implemented.

  • tyrone_taggart

    “All in the IRA have done wrong.”

    This raises for me an interesting moral question. Do you think God judges people from an external perspective or does he judge by ones internal motives for action.

    ie does he think its better to right for wrong motivations or wrong for right motivations.

  • Mick Fealty


    Not quite being facetious, but what has the inscrutable mind of God to do with this question?

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    God doesn’t judge people at all because he doesn’t exist. Sorry, basic point, but it has to be said.

    But moral philosophy-wise, on whether we judge people purely on their intentions – that is, allow people off the hook if they “meant well” – the answer is basically ‘no’.

    If a person thinks that, say killing disabled people is doing them a favour, this cannot be allowed to either excuse the act or even mitigate guilt for it. Likewise, the killing of people from the other ethnic group is not made any better if the killers believe strongly they are doing good (e.g. because it is “defending Ulster” or “freeing Ireland from the British yoke”). If anything it makes it worse, as it suggests that the killing is somehow excusable. It adds an extra layer of cruelty to the attack.

    The other point that is perhaps finally coming more into the mainstream of public discourse these days is that we now understand a lot more about the role of “intentionality” in human behaviour. As Jonah Lehrer and others have explained, the conscious brain is not the Oval Office it is the Press Office. That is, human decision-making involves complex processes in the brain that only partly take place at a conscious level. Our self-narratives about why we have done something – an act of violence against someone from another ethnic group, for example – are unlikely to be truthful, especially as they are prone to our habits of presenting ourselves as rational actors – which we are not. They can give an insight into why we might have done it, but they are unlikely to provide full explanations.

    People’s accounts of why they did what they did in the Troubles should be regarded in that light – a starting point for working out why they did it, not the final word. You don’t need to read Daniel Kahneman or Dan Ariely to get this – the self-justifying self-delusion of those who supported and carried out terror is one of their more obviously noticeable traits.

  • tyrone_taggart

    “what the inscrutable mind of God to dovent this question?”

    I don’t quite understand what you are asking but if its why ask then my answer would be:

    Ringland has a “Statement of Wrongs” and Turgon: “All in the IRA have done wrong.”

    Both start with a view of “wrong” and I am wondering on what do they base there view?

  • tyrone_taggart

    Mainland Ulsterman

    Thank you for your response.

    If you remove intentions then we are only left with actions.

    Which are often more about the situation in which one finds oneself than anything else. For example who is more morally at fault, one who for pay shoots another person or drops a bomb on a city?

  • Mick Fealty

    But theres no reference to religious belief in either TRs piece or Turgons response. law and morality are the common battleground not religion.


    I found the proposal all a bit of a ramble and a bit naive really. What Mr Ringland fails to do is to set out exactly what the problem is that he is endeavouring to find a solution to and what exactly he thinks the imposition of his particular solution is likely to achieve. That would be a good basis to start in order to determine the potential effectiveness of what he is proposing. If one strips away the quotes (of which there are far too many), the anecdotes and Mr Ringand’s own personal view of the world, all we really seem to have here is the structure for another lawyer supported inquiry with a peculiar focus on the ECHR. And I really had hoped we were past quoting statistics on how many this lot killed and how many of that lot were killed and realised that pain and suffering is at an individual level. I guess we could all sit down in the pub and come up with grand plans to resolve of the ills of the past but I really expect something better from one who aspired to be a politician.

  • tyrone_taggart

    “law and morality are the common battleground not religion”

    To start with “law” apart from often being “an ass” is not one in which judging ones or others actions is necessarily a standard one should apply. For example during the Nuremberg trials “Superior Orders” defense was deemed not to apply:

    Adolf Eichmann speech (yes I know the Hitler rule)

    “I cannot recognize the verdict of guilty. . . . It was my misfortune to become entangled in these atrocities. But these misdeeds did not happen according to my wishes. It was not my wish to slay people. . . . Once again I would stress that I am guilty of having been obedient, having subordinated myself to my official duties and the obligations of war service and my oath of allegiance and my oath of office, and in addition, once the war started, there was also martial law. . . . I did not persecute Jews with avidity and passion. That is what the government did. . . . At that time obedience was demanded, just as in the future it will also be demanded of the subordinate.”

  • tyrone_taggart

    “law and morality are the common battleground not religion”

    Morality is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good and those that are bad.

    As a troubled atheist I still have to accept the culture of the monotheistic god as a starting point for looking at morality of situations as its a shared concept.

    I would be interested in how you would have addressed the morality issue?

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    If you’re an atheist, why do you have to “accept the culture of the monotheistic god as a starting point for looking at morality”? If you’re an atheist, it’s not a “shared concept” then, is it?

    You say if we remove intentions we are left only with actions. Certainly I think actions speak louder than words, to use the cliche. But we have more than intentions, actions and words, we have the vast majority of human thought and decision-making which “intentionality” does not really cover. To quote David Brooks’ “The Social Animal”, “the unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind – where most of the decisions and many of the most impressive acts of thinking take place.”

    To bring this back to Troubles victims and story-telling, the new cognitive science seems to suggest that if we think we are getting some ultimate truth from it, or anything like it, we are very deluded. We are all, as human beings, very unreliable narrators of our own actions, thoughts and intentions. What is needed, if we want sense to emerge from the process, is sense-making: that is analysis of what is said using not only people’s testimonies but everything else we know about what happened. This should be the work of academic historians, sociologists, social psychologists and anthropologists, as the people with the requisite skills.

    Otherwise there is a real danger that the watching public, when they view the story-telling part of the process, could mistake it for something deeper than it is – and the whole process could backfire in a fog of misunderstanding and recrimination. The victim testimonies, if they happen, will be best seen as raw ingredients for a dish we want to produce (ultimately, an understanding of what happened that is coherent and robust) – but those testimonies will not be the only ingredients and certainly will give us much of an idea in themselves of what the dish itself will look or taste like.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    sorry, should have been “will NOT give us much of an idea”, in the last sentence

  • tyrone_taggart

    Mainland Ulsterman:

    I may be a worshiper of old Celtic gods but it still does not change the culture of the world around me.

    I agree with you that ” human beings, very unreliable narrators of our own actions, thoughts and intentions.”

    I disagree with you on “academic historians, sociologists, social psychologists and anthropologists, as the people with the requisite skills.” They are just as much “unreliable narrators” as any other human being.

    There is lots of people who think there actions “was justified” you/people/me may say its “unacceptable” but its a truth.

    If there is to a truth recovery process it should not be about today but an archive to be explored in 20/50/100 years if anyone is interested.

  • harpo

    “I found the proposal all a bit of a ramble and a bit naive really. What Mr Ringland fails to do is to set out exactly what the problem is that he is endeavouring to find a solution to and what exactly he thinks the imposition of his particular solution is likely to achieve.”

    Not Now John:

    I agree. He rambles on and on about reconciliation but what exactly is he trying to reconcile to what? The underlying issue behind the Troubles is not over – the unionist versus nationalist thing.

    In order to truly reconcile each side would have to truly accept that the other side has the right to their aspiration. I can only speak as a unionist, but I don’t think that many nationalists see unionism as a legitimate aspiration. They still consider partition as a wrong that has to be put right as opposed to the unionist view that it was a practical solution to a practical problem at the time.

    This process that Ringland refers to seems to be designed to be a taxpayer funded talking shop that won’t actually reconcile anything to anything else. Most people will turn up, say their bit and leave with exactly the same views that they turned up with. What exactly would be the point of that?