Approach to Northern Ireland’s bloody past remains ad hoc and most of all unpredictable…

There is much wringing of hands at the latest turn in the story of the Boston archives. Henry McDonald has a good round up of some of it. As it stands, US law, it seems, affords US institutions of Higher Education little protection against an incoming subpoena.

The College is folding on this case, but fighting an attempt at a wider trawl through archives. The two researchers, Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntrye are considering further options in this case.

In the meantime Seamus McKendry Jean McConville’s son-in-law on speaking on RTE’s This Week programme (35 minutes in) wants to know who ordered the killing.

It is absolutely imperative that these tapes are given back to the Police Service here. I mean these tapes contain interviews that relate to murder, not the theft of car radios or the clothes of someone’s line. It’s not a trivial matter; it’s a murder case.

Primarily for Helen my wife – after all it was her mother that was murdered so brutally – she would dearly like to get closure. She would dearly love to find out why her mother was murdered and on whose authority was she murdered.

I mean Dolours Price has already intimated that Gerry Adams told her to drive Mrs McConville and we’re hoping that the tapes will clarify that.

She just wants to find out who signed the warrant for her mother’s death on absolute total lack of evidence of any shape or form. She knows her mother was scapegoated by the IRA.

Unsurprisingly the question of academic freedom is secondary to the family. Whilst it is unlikely any criminal prosecutions will arise directly from any evidence emerging from the archives, the more complete the case notes the HET eventually hand over to the family the greater their scope for subsequent action.

With an investigation pending for the Paras over Bloody Sunday, the SoS looking into an inquiry in the Enniskillen and lively campaigns looking for investigations into the circumstances of the bombing of McGurks Bar and the killing of civilians at time of internment in 1971 the approach to Northern Ireland’s past remains ad hoc, and unpredictable.

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  • The alternative to an ad hoc approach to the Past (and there is actually a difference between knowing stiff and doing something about it….prosecutions) is to codify the approach.
    And simply put thats not going to happen. I think most of us assume that nobody involved in the Peace Process (an increasingly obsolete term) is going to go to jail for anything before 1998. That was the nod and the wink and I dont suppose many thought otherwise.
    Rightly or wrongly that was what we voted for. It was certainly the implication if for no other reason terrorists and anti-terrorists were unlikely to agree to their own prosecution.

    Things may or may not have worked out as expected. But it seems foolish to re-visit it. As a means of getting prosecutions nobody is going to agree to it.
    As a means of arriving at Truth and all that……or rather allowing us a peek at what is in archives to satisfy our curiousity then it still remains unlikely.
    I actually think that Boston College is merely the only “archive” that is publicly admitted. Id be surprised if other individuals and institutions (and for that matter government departments) did not have archives which would go a long way to satisfying the Truth thing.

    At what point does information held by individuals become an archive. Are those compiling the archive …..and it would seem remiss for even amateur local historians……not to talk to people who have a “story”.
    The big mistake surely was allowing the public into the secret of Boston. The authorities had to act.
    Codifying the approach merely lets the people who made the mistake off the hook.

  • Barnshee

    “Rightly or wrongly that was what we voted for. ”

    The royal “we” there? There was a strong “no” vote if my memory serves me right.. There is no reason why “terrorists and anti-terrorists” cannot be brought before the courts-failing that there is no reason why they should not be “named and shamed” –whatever their hue

    Should civil actions follow— well there the rub

  • Drumlins Rock

    FJH, it was not in the agreement, and very deliberately so, any hint of “amnesty” would have have meant its failure. The 2 year sentence was a bitter pill for many to swallow, and cost alot of support in the unionist community, it was essential the possibility of convictions for past crimes still remained, even if the sentence was derisory. Everyone knows the possibility fades with time, but if you remove the chances of conviction you also remove the crime itself, totally unacceptable to most victims.

    Those who compiled the records seemed to have messed up, thats their problem, let them sort it out.

  • “Unsurprisingly the question of academic freedom is secondary to the family.”

    That is not freedom above or beyond the law! Would be interested to see the advance legal advice offered on how air-tight the ‘promise’ of release postumously was going to be. As for the two interviewers, ditto. Did they even take/seek advice before embarking on this?

  • Mick Fealty

    There was an interesting debate hosted by the Young Ulster Unionists on how to deal with the past:

    There’s two contribution worth highlighting. First Henry Patterson (from about 11mins) who has concerns about the idea that nothing can be done in a situation in which all truth is contested, and therefore unrecoverable. He argues Unionists are in danger of de facto surrendering of narrative dominated by the repeated calling to account of state forces.

    And then there’s Michael Shilliday from about 19 mins in… He argues that whilst in South Africa, there is a shared narrative of what happened, why it happened and why people are where they are today. None of these things apply in Northern Ireland.

    He also points out Sinn Fein’s difficulty in engaging consistently with any formal truth recovery programme, giving as an example of the deputy First Minister endorsing every line of the Saville Report, except the bit that refers to his activity on the day in question.

    The fact that Sinn Fein feels compelled to adopt such ‘ridiculous positions’ mean, he argues, that we’re not going to get any kind of a workable solution.

  • Well Im the least likely person to use a royal “we” but the majority of those that voted in the Referendum did actually vote “yes”.
    While Drumlins Rock is clearly right that an Amnesty was not in the Agreement, it was certainly implied, the biggest clue being that those who had most to gain from an Amnesty were among the most enthusiastic supporters of the Agreement.
    Boston is in fact a red herring. While it would certainly be interesting, it would probably prove the basis for investigation rather than actual evidence itself.
    Surely the first step would be to interview those alleged to have given statemenrts on tape and asked them what they said.
    Likewise ask the journalists who made the tapes.
    Does “evidence” only become “evidence” when its in an archive?
    Surely at the point of being recounted, it has some evidential value…if not conclusive.

    If anyone has evidence about a crime, including things allegedly told to them then their first duty might be to assist police rather than put it in an archive.
    The plain fact is a lot of academics and journalists and perhaps even bloggers have an archive. It is not, I suggest any more priveleged because of the occupation of the person who has it.

  • tacapall

    The truth about all that happened will come out someday maybe in another 100 years or so it depends on how much political blackmailing can be gained by keeping it secret. But one things for sure all sides have truths that they would pay to keep secret.

  • Mick Fealty

    Beyond South Africa, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a truth and reconciliation process working.

    I think that goes to the point Michael makes which is there is no broadly shared narrative of what the conflict added up to…

    The sharing of power now between former opponents/enemies make any forms of recovery partial and deeply problematic…

    For my part, I agree with Michael when he goes on to argue that state institutions should be held to higher standards.

    But the anti state forces killed and maimed a lot more than those of the state. And they suffered a far lower mortality rate.

    Where, if anywhere, should this principle stop now that some of the former principals of those organisations now have their own state responsibilities?

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Striking too listening to that – thanks Mick – that Michael Nesbitt felt that opening up the truth about the web of informants within the Republican community would bring down not only Stormont but cause serious social breakdown and possibly a renewed set of Troubles.

    Henry Patterson makes a great point that “unionism seems to be constantly responding …” – the long and short of it is that unionists need to put the real Troubles narrative approach across at their own time and in their own way and not just as a rebuttal to the latest piece of SF . It means unionism going somewhere it hasn’t been for a long time – out in front with a positive vision that it is willing to describe and support with argument. Unionism has for me long had winning arguments, but has mumbled and bumbled them in the background when no one’s listening.

    Unionists don’t need to ape SF but do need to recapture that sense of self-assurance they used to be associated with – though probably not since the Titanic sank. That’s really the trick. It’s not the message, it’s the way unionists put it across that’s the problem. But we should take heart that history will be on our side.

    The more proper rigorous history is written of the Troubles, the better for us unionists. It’s in the shallower world of the journalistic deadline that we suffer most.

  • harpo

    “I think most of us assume that nobody involved in the Peace Process (an increasingly obsolete term) is going to go to jail for anything before 1998. That was the nod and the wink and I dont suppose many thought otherwise.
    Rightly or wrongly that was what we voted for.”

    fitz:

    I don’t recall people saying that they voted for that.

    Wasn’t it understood that anyone convicted for an offence committed before peace broke out would only serve a maximum of 2 years of they net certain conditions? That was the ‘compromise’ that many people had to swallow.

    If there was any nod or wink it came after the people voted. People voted for one thing but after voting they were told about the nod and wink – that members of the major players wouldn’t even be prosecuted.

  • harpo

    “While Drumlins Rock is clearly right that an Amnesty was not in the Agreement, it was certainly implied, the biggest clue being that those who had most to gain from an Amnesty were among the most enthusiastic supporters of the Agreement.”

    fitz:

    This is nonsense.

    I might as well claim that the 2 years thing actually implied that anyone caught and convicted would be shot. That would suit me, but unfortunately it isn’t in the agreement.

    Certain people claim that an amnesty is implied because it suits them to claim that. They got X in the agreement but they now claim that it was implied that the agreement meant X+Y.

    Can you point out exactly where it was implied that the deal included an amnesty?

  • Reader

    fitzjameshorse: Well Im the least likely person to use a royal “we” but the majority of those that voted in the Referendum did actually vote “yes”.
    While Drumlins Rock is clearly right that an Amnesty was not in the Agreement, it was certainly implied, the biggest clue being that those who had most to gain from an Amnesty were among the most enthusiastic supporters of the Agreement.

    I voted yes to the agreement, knowing that the GFA was scrutinised line by line by the smart suits of SF, and the scruffier suits of the UUP, and probably by the probation officers of the PUP and the UDP. They each got everything they could possibly manage into the agreement in months of talks. But they didn’t get an amnesty into the agreement; I checked at the time; I didn’t vote for an amnesty; I wouldn’t have voted for an amnesty.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Reader’s right there, when it comes to construing agreed commitments, it does well to go back to the agreed wording. And there’s really nothing there about an amnesty. You have to remember the political fluff around the agreement is just that – and doesn’t represent what was actually agreed. But over time it can get confused with the actual stuff we agreed.