Haass Talks: Any comprehensive truth recovery must be realistic about what can be achieved…

It’s hard to figure what role Richard Haass sees for himself, but I’ve heard it described as a figleaf for OFMdFM to sell themselves at the next election, and as a think in, with the purpose of helping the Executive recalibrate itself around the intractable issues of the last few years.

There have been many calls, not least from the Bradley Eames commission, for some kind of comprehensive means of dealing with the legacy of the troubles. Interestingly Henry McDonald picks up this passage from Gerry Adams’ interview with Will Crawley on Sunday Sequence:

Commenting on a highly acclaimed documentary broadcast last week, which included a tape recording from the late IRA Belfast commander Brendan Hughes claiming that Adams gave the order, the Sinn Féin leader told Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence programme:

“Arguably, I suppose, every single victim of the conflict would deserve a programme such as that. But in this case I think it showed up the cruelty and the horror of war, even a low-intensity war such as the one that occurred in our part of the island.”

Arguably, that’s true. Although Mr Adams can also rest assured that it won’t happen. It is the reverberative consequences of his own alleged attachment to that particular killing which enabled the substantial drawdown of resources time and money to make such compelling programme.

The question of the past and who gets their story told and who doesn’t is a genuinely perplexing one (not least when you witness the partisan abuse handed out to the ‘wrong sort of victim’ on Twitter).

Issues arise haphazardly, and invariably open old wounds that are not easy to close and which have an effect of re-exposing the body politic to the traumas of past conflict. It also exposes current players to the accusation that they lied for the sake of political expediency.

In the business of truth recovery there are many disparate players. The Pat Finucane Centre is good example of a smart if highly partial lobby group, which does important work in looking for specific answers from the state over its actions during the troubles.

It has helped some families to piece together the truth about victims of state violence including the case of Christopher Quinn who shot dead during a gun battle at Unity Flats in 1971, and that of murder of 76 year old Roseann Mallon.

The problem with implementation of a comprehensive politics based solution is that when all is said and done, none of the major parties are willing to play ball. And lobby groups like the PFC are understandably interested only in helping a particular set of victims.

The adversarial court system often grinds out more questions than results. Cagey defensiveness and nondisclosure is the prefered stratagem of both sides. High Court Judge Mr Justice Weir told MOD lawyers during the Mallon inquest:

You should put your cards face up, otherwise people imagine things are hidden underneath them.

This is perhaps why most of the stories which do emerge and grab the headlines invariably have a keen political edge to them.

The current HET process is also partial (since it can only access what the state already ‘knows’). and open to lobbying by interested organisations. Nor does it have the support of all political parties in Stormont.

Worst of all it raises expectations in victim’s families it can rarely fulfill.

McDonald again:

Danny Toland, whose father John was shot dead by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in 1976, said: “The murder of my father was investigated by the historical enquiries team (HET), but were were left with more questions than answers, particularly around the extent of collusion which took place between the UDA and the security forces, which the HET could only say was ‘likely’.”

Toland said that what was needed was a more independent means of investigating all past cases where there are now outstanding questions. Alex Bunting, who was badly injured in an IRA booby trap car bomb in 1991, said: “No one wants to listen – especially within politics.”

Any attempt to recover truth on a more comprehensive basis would need first of all to dial down expectations of what it can achieve. It might set out to explore the subjective experience of many diverse individuals, rather than making claims objectivity it cannot stand over.

It certainly should be infinitely scaleable, reaching out to the families of deceased victims, and beyond to capture the lived experience of those in broader society affected by the troubles, helping to position it beyond the manipulative reach of interested players.

It ought not try to blunt the proper working of the judicial system. People will continue to want to fight their own causes, and not be cast into silence just because it is politically inconvenient for their controversies to be heard in public.

It even might take a lead from one of the most honourable projects to come out of the post troubles era, Lost Lives and build on simple story telling.

The critical events of the last four decades deserve to be told in the full, various and contradicting voices of those affected by it. And not just those with the full benefit of their own political megaphone.


  • Alias

    Actually, grief is an intensely private affair. What most of the families want, I suspect, is justice and not to be a performer in a tear-filled show or to have their loved one reduced to a paragraph in a report, knowing they were hoodwinked by the State into trading justice for a ‘sexed-down’ version of the truth.

    I find it cynical and sickening that the State and servants are deliberately misleading the families into thinking that it has even the faintest intention of delivering justice (and there is no international law that compels it to deliver justice, merely to deliver it fairly) for victims when the absolute reality is that it has no such intention as that would involve revealing its own role in creating those victims.

    There has never been, and nor can there ever be, any truth or justice from a State where the old regime remains in power – and, indeed, where the state-sponsored murder gangs have been elevated to share in that power. They use that power not to deliver justice or truth but to prevent its delivery.

    Incidentally, what exactly had the ‘disappearing’ of Jean McConville got to do with “the horror of war” as [text removed – mods], Mr Adams, claims? Her murder was a political act, not a military act. She was ‘disappeared’ in order to avoid bad publicity for the murder gang. That’s politics, not war. In a ‘war’, she murder would have been made public so as to deter others.

  • cynic2

    When we cannot get to the truth non the Lyric Theatre rebuild, what hope is there for this?

  • Amnesty International sends a mixed portfolio of left and right political prisoners from various countries ruled by regimes of the left and right to its local chapters to agitate on behalf of. This way it maximizes support and does not get accused of bias. I think that to be effective any truth recovery investigation will also have to to work with a mixed portfolio of cases of victims of republican, loyalist, and state forces.

    “She was ‘disappeared’ in order to avoid bad publicity for the murder gang. That’s politics, not war. In a ‘war’, she [sic] murder would have been made public so as to deter others.”


    Until we really know her status we don’t know the motivation for her killing. If she was really an informer as Brendan Hughes claimed and as the IRA put out at the time of her murder it was in order to deter informing. If she was not, then it was to put out a message of no comforting or taking care of British soldiers. I think it was well known in her area that she had been disappeared.

  • Alias

    The murders of the so-called ‘disappeared’ were all denied by the Shinners. The intent was highly unlikely to be to create a local knowledge but not a national knowledge of who the murderers were so that others may be deterred locally but not nationally. In other such murders [text removed] such as the hanging of PIRA member Paddy Joe Crawford in Long Kesh, there was no local or national knowledge at all that the Shinners had presented his murder as a suicide until Brendan Hughes revealed it.

    The logic of ‘disappearing’ people, of using nom de plumes, and of denying murders is purely politics: it is to avoid bad publicity.

  • son of sam

    tmitch57 mentions Amnesty in his/her post above.During the Troubles, I can’t remember Amnesty being overly concerned with the needs of victims although recently it seems to have discovered that victims groupings have legitimate concerns.I’m open to correction if my understanding of Amnestys position during the Troubles is wrong.

  • Rory Carr

    Son of Sam may, as he writes, be open to correction on his perception of Amnesty International’s lamentable lack of effort during The Troubles but it will not be from me as my recollection is surprisingly in harmony with his own.

  • BarneyT

    Shouldn’t the state abide by their view that the IRA were murderous terrorists and turn the tables squarely on themselves? Based on that argument the state remains and the criminals have gone away. The state, still flourishing, must be examined until they fully admit their full role over here.

    I’m of the view that the truth needs to emerge but will only do so if we draw a line under this and provide amnesty even for the state.

    If the state continues to absolve itself then let the investigations into state collusion and state murder unfold and leave the criminals alone as they have done as advertised on the tin.

    Also for years the state and it’s protagonists did not differentiate between SF and the IRA but now choose to question if a long term SF member was signed up? Can they have it both ways?

    I don’t mean to excuse the uvf or IRA but they are part of something else. The state is not and therefore deserves different attention as they tried to seize the moral high ground and for years dismissed republican grievance and the loyal response. As I say I don’t justify what is called terrorism but I expect a certain code from the state

  • Mick Fealty

    Okay, so to re-iterate what I said above, the judicial process should be left to trundle on, and grind out what truths that can be got that way. But as we have seen with the HET the evidential trail is largely cold (except perhaps on the loyalist side where: 1, they took far less trouble to cover up what they actually did; and 2, they are far less politically useful to the Peace Process™).

    The truth is, despite a lot of hand wringing by some good people, no government and no former paramilitary leader is going to voluntarily agree to tell the truth they took so many lives in order to bury. You’d have had more success asking Al Capone and J Edgar Hoover to ‘do the right thing’…

    I would argue that if Northern Ireland’s past is a residually wicked problem then follow the pack drill and try a deliberately weaker solution that contains no false promises of closure, but starts to provide a more honest and less corruptible map of the lived experience of the troubles.

  • socaire

    Incidentally, what exactly had the ‘disappearing’ of Jean McConville got to do with “the horror of war” as her murderer, Mr Adams, claims?
    In other such murders ordered by Mr Adams,

    Does one assume from these quotes that Slugger accepts the validity of these assertions and if not, why has the editorial kaffeeklutz not shown him the road?

  • megatron

    I personally believe it should all be swept under the carpet. All of it.

    Rememberence sunday just came and went – does anyone seriously believe that there was not a non-zero amount of raping / pillaging/ maybe even dissapearing by all sides over europe in those horrible years. It is now rightly brushed under the carpet (never mind the carpet bombing of Dresden or how many Jean McConvilles were in Hiroshima). Adams is right in that respect – that is just what happens in war.

    The problem is that taken out of the war context pretty much every action looks totally inexcusable (except killing the other side). An honest, informed conversation about the real truth seems impossible.

    People want the other side to confirm their impression of the truth which is a different thing entirely.

  • “The murders of the so-called ‘disappeared’ were all denied by the Shinners.”


    The other half of the Republican Movement did not have to have an identical position. If someone suddenly goes missing and the word is then put out that that person was an informer, people can put two and two together. It’s like in a police show when someone who is known to be a criminal casually lets someone that he wants to intimidate that he knows where their children go to school or where his or her spouse works. It can be done in an innocent sounding remark that has a certain effect on the person hearing the threat but is completely deniable as a threat. The IRA at the time was worried about stopping informing, or any contact with British soldiers, etc. Years later Sinn Fein was worried about its image and electability in NI, the Republic and internationally.

  • Mick Fealty

    Fair call socaire. I’ve now removed the offending sections, and will shortly give Mr Alias a yellow. Strictly speaking it’s on grounds of public taste, rather than for playing the man.

    The problem with discussing Mr Adams and almost any controversial aspect of his past is that he himself has licensed others to take ‘positions’ which contradict his own ‘position’ on the truth of the past.


    You are back in wind up ‘flaming’ mode. You know what comes next.

  • babyface finlayson

    “It ought not try to blunt the proper working of the judicial system. People will continue to want to fight their own causes, and not be cast into silence just because it is politically inconvenient for their controversies to be heard in public.”
    Rightly so. A blanket amnesty would be unfair and cruel to the families of victims. We have no right to ask it of them.
    I wonder could some kind of selective amnesty work, with input from families of victims.
    In cases where families feel they need to continue to seek justice, no amnesty may be offered.
    In cases where families want only to know the truth an amnesty may be offered.
    I realise it might be seen as an unequal implementation of the law, but it might help as Mick puts it to provide a more honest map.

  • Mick Fealty

    That would require a form of consensus, which I’d suspect could be open to all manner of manipulation. You cannot squeeze out a reliable verdict when you simply don’t have the evidence.

    That’s why I’d argue you have to take down expectations and work comprehensively on a level that’s socially useful, practically realisable and relatively safe from political gaming and manipulation.

  • Alias

    “If someone suddenly goes missing and the word is then put out that that person was an informer, people can put two and two together.”

    Which begs the question, if they wanted it known that they had murdered an informer (i.e. a good citizen who allegedly did what Marty now tells all other good citizens to do), why not just announce it as they did with a plethora of other so-called informers?

    There is no escaping the conclusion that ‘disappearing’ people was a political act: its purpose was to ensure that murders deemed to be beyond all justification (although the Shinner toadies still try, typically by regurgitating the “fog of war” spiel) were not attributed to the Shinner murder gang and its godfathers. Bad things don’t just happen – they are carefully planned.

    That is also why the murder of Paddy Joe Crawford was presented as a suicide.

    The logic of deterrence only works when the deterrent is known, not when it is deliberately hidden.

    Mick, I think you’ll find that the inquest into the death of Jean McConville recorded a verdict of unlawful killing, i.e. murder. We are dealing with murderers, and that includes those directly involved in the conspiracy.

  • babyface finlayson

    Maybe it would not work perfectly but it might move things a little bit forward.
    If individual families want to pursue justice that is their right and society should not ask them to forfeit that right. They will know of course how slim their chances must be of success.
    Those families, however,wanting only the truth should have the last word on whether an amnesty can be offered.
    As with therapy being person centered, so with justice being victim centered.
    There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

  • mac tire

    To ALL those who lost loved ones and to those who were injured or traumatised, we must offer our sympathy and respect.

    No ‘ifs’ nor ‘buts’, otherwise it appears partisan. And, I guess many of us are guilty of that at some time or other.

    All hands were dirty. Some younger ‘Press Officers’ (one on this site in particular) would like to portray a different story – little do they know, little do they want to know.

    An amnesty is, perhaps, the best solution. Perhaps if the British admitted that they were involved in a low scale war that would solve many of the problems in relation to what can be achieved.

    And then, it is one step at a time.

    The previous combatants are gone. Have left the stage. Yet we get the impression that some are devastated by that. Now is the time to face down the religious/combative/backward bigots (from all sides). Their time is over.

    My reply will not, in all probability bring truth but it can be achieved.

    ***Please slate my post – that is not a problem. But those hypocrites who will argue that some violence good/others bad type of shite will not get a reasonable answer.

  • Mick Fealty

    In The Disappeared, Martin McCallister highlighted the importance the provisionals put of getting distracting rumours about the victim still living some kind duplicitous life into the field afterwards (as an explanation why the family never heard from them since).

    It’s probably true that not everyone will have believed it, but it was hived off into the ambiguous field of conjecture rather than the certainty of ‘common knowledge’.

    This is the very schema Adams himself resorts to in his interview. He’s still at the same game even at the very moment it has been outed as fraudulent. So we now know he’s still not coming up with the goods re the as yet unacknowledged disappeared.


    Maybe, but dealing with the past in a collective peacemaking of what it all meant fir ordinary folk in a societal way IS possible that a comprehensive deal on justice is not.

  • Chinook

    The biggest beneficiaries of any Truth Commission will be the CNR community,as the greatest amount of cases would be against the British State.Who will answer to the PUL community?,The Irish Gov’t,SF/IRA in all their guises,the Catholic Church?.No.The Irish Gov’t deny anything and everything,whereas HMG is slowly coming to terms with their deafness.The IRA and SF could not even be honest at The Bloody Sunday Inquiry,and their legal team/s stroked the taxpayer so heavily, that the HMG had to put an end to any future inquiries.Which leaves the CC,who appear to be blind to all the crime and collusion within their own church and their roles in aiding and abetting with PIRA.If we place the HET into the mix,we would have one of the the most one-sided investigations since the Nazi War Crimes.
    I doubt very much,if a workable Truth Commission can even be implemented ,although I can see some kind of agreement concerning the other matters.

  • Alias

    There was certainly a lot of disinformation about what happened to Ms McConville and some of it, oddly enough, came from the British Army.

    According to Nuala O’Loan, they were reporting a few months after her abduction (in response to attempts to get the police interested) that her abduction was a hoax (presumably by PIRA but the purpose isn’t stated) and that she had simply abandoned her children and was “known to be safe”.

    It was certainly very helpful to the murder gang that the police were not interested in her murder and that the army were saying it never happened.

    It looks like someone enjoyed state protection for his crimes even then.

    PIRA’s disinformation included stories that a plastic bag had been placed over her head and that this had accidently killed her. The intent there is to distance the gang from bad publicity, so that is politics again. That is not consistent with the claim that PIRA wanted it known via rumour mill that it has murdered her as punishment for informing so there was no value there as deterrence. In reality, as recorded at her inquest, she was killed by a bullet to the back of her head.

    Incidentally, the Shinners have a practice of blaming these things on dead members. It’s convenient that all the murderers named in the case of Paddy Joe Crawford are dead and so is the man named having put the bullet in the back of Jean McConville’s head. I suppose it was just bad luck that the priest who Mr Adams claimed had received his warning about his paedophile brother was also dead. In all these cases, the practice is to select a dead person.

    No doubt that any ‘truth’ commission will be told that all the murders of the last few decades were committed by gang members who are now dead…

  • BarneyT

    Perhaps that’s the strategy …, delay and delay and site the pointlessness of it all repeatedly… Until death comes to all players. In the meantime a new radicalised generation will be bred, being allowed to feed on the myths half truths and lies. My gut tells me a different and convenient set of truths will be written into respective histories if we don’t cleanse now. Instead we cower in the face of perceived obstacles. Some of these barriers to the truth can be removed and I maintain hopeful we can extract some form of shared history

  • Alias

    The strategy of the State and its gangs is to wear down the families of their victims by delaying the justice they seek until a circumstance can be engineered that it becomes but just socially acceptable but socially desirable for the State to unequivocally deny them that justice. That circumstance will be an imperative to tie up all the (state-created) loose ends for the greater good of society. It’s not easy for a State to deliberately deny justice to its citizens while trying to maintain the facade of being a civilised society. It takes time and skill to present that level of barbarianism as being socially progressive and desirable but the British state is a master of such dark arts.

    At the end of the day, folks knew that voting for the murder gangs meant that their victims would have to be shafted. It wasn’t deemed helpful to ‘the process’ that people should be reminded of the crimes committed by those who were to be rebranded as progressive peacemakers rather than shown again as bigots, gangsters and murderers. That decision was made long ago and again the collusion required between the state and the public in that rebranding was skilfully engineered.

    All that you’re seeing now in the end-game of that strategy wherein a decision made long ago by the British state in its national interest will be presented as being made by the indigenous people in the public interest.