Sunday afternoon wasn’t Baroness O’Loan’s first visit to Corrymeela. When setting up the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, she brought staff up to Ballycastle to talk through how they would ensure that their own backgrounds and experiences would not hamper the impartiality of the office and it’s investigations.
She began her address speaking about being “lost in the wrong territory” while driving around Northern Ireland without a map in the car during the Troubles. She reckoned it’s a concept that still applies today.
In her opinion there isn’t ever “a good time” to do things in Northern Ireland. So we have to get on and implement changes. On her list of issues still to resolve:
1. Providing a service for our victims. Some victims are having to choose between physio and pain relief. Trauma experienced years after events was not factored into budgetary calculations.
Twaddell Avenue is creating more division and tension up in North Belfast. We need leadership on a massive scale …
2. If we haven’t got a policing system that’s working properly, if we haven’t got a coronial [coroners] system that’s working properly … we haven’t got the rule of law.
We need to think about the foundations for a solid and sustainable peace … We still don’t, as Catholics and Protestants, understand that we’re not a threat to each other …
The former law lecturer went on to comment that in contrast to the work that we know is unfinished, “the world has seen and observed our Troubles and thinks we’re getting on with it”. There is a fear of the consequences of revealing truth. Conflict is always messy and fears that what might emerge will be damaging.
Referring to the imperfect South African system of truth-telling and amnesty, Baroness O’Loan said that Northern Ireland could not just adapt somewhere else’s model.
Quoting from Maya Angelou:
History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.
She contrasted personal, inward-looking “healing” with the “reconciling” of society. Healing may bring people to truth.
While structurally Northern Ireland needs commissions and inquiries – and during the Q&A she commented on the financial merits of running those inquiries – she laid out four “foundations” on which we build.
1. Courage. Stepping outside the party line. Our politicians need courage to work across the lines – the reorganisation of local government has left us with much more sectarian councils. We need the courage to name wrong doing.
2. Compassion and love. Compassion is not about not feeling sorry for people, but instead walking with them in their suffering.
4. Integrity. When corruption or partiality creeps into our society it needs to be called out.
With those four pillars, maybe young people won’t be lured back into the terrorism of our past.