By Danny Morrison (for Andersonstown News)
WHEN I am teaching creative writing I often quote the oxymoron that fiction is 'a lie that tells a truth'. Writers imagine and create characters, which, hopefully, rise from the page as flesh and blood. The author will place them in challenging situations - be it a conflict, a dilemma, an issue of love or ambition - and through their experiences, adventures and decisions they emerge at the other end changed, and the reader, in turn, empathises, learns or has confirmed some philosophical truth about the meaning of life.
At least that's how it's supposed to work.
ON the other hand, in real life, look at how many versions of the truth there are to this or that event. History, it is said, is written by the victor: which is often the militarily superior, the powerful and the wealthy. Government and establishments are authorities, which, often allied to the most influential sections of the media, have a monopoly and a vested interest on how events are depicted. The first news that the world received on January 30th 1972 was that thirteen gunmen and bombers had been shot dead in clashes with the Paras in Derry.
I know from my days working in publicity the power of British propaganda and the struggle to counter it.
I also know that the nationalist community has nothing to fear from the truth. I believe that we know almost every killing carried out by the IRA. If there are some killings that have gone unclaimed unionist representatives and the media have been quick to attribute them.
In their opposition to the Belfast Agreement and the political process unionists complain that justice requires the perpetrators be imprisoned, not released or given amnesty. While some IRA activists escaped what passes for British justice -- torture of prisoners, Diplock Courts -- many activists were killed or caught and served time often in cruel conditions until their sacrifices and struggle led to improvements.
One thing is for sure, the RUC and its Special Branch pursued republicans with rigour. Unionists can hardly complain that the state forces were starved off resources or were soft on the IRA.
Nor can they claim that at the end of the conflict there remains a huge, unresolved conspiracy about the actions of the IRA. Why, unionist MPs are so well versed on the IRA that they regularly stand up in the House of Commons and rattle off the names of whom they claim to be on its Army Council. There are no revelations we have yet to learn that could be blacker for the IRA than Bloody Friday or Birmingham or La Mon or Enniskillen or Warrington or the Shankill bombing.
Thus, there is no comparison between the demand from nationalists to learn the truth about collusion and how unionists counter with complaints that there are no public inquiries into La Mon or Enniskillen. The IRA bombed both. That's clear. But what we want to know is did British forces together with loyalists bomb Dublin and conspire with unionist paramilitaries in a dirty war against nationalists and their representatives. It is not an issue of vengeance (no one expects the perpetrators to be imprisoned), it is an issue of truth and responsibility, but with huge political implications for unionism and the British -- which is why they resist public inquiries.
To establish the truth of collusion would upset the narrative of the conflict and implicate the British government in murdering its subjects, indelibly tainting the British, the cause of the union and unionists. It would rob the British and unionists of the pretentious moral high ground from which they have conducted negotiations, using the game of decommissioning and IRA disbandment, tests on republicans and Sinn Féin, in order to limit progress and thwart nationalist demands and aspirations.
BACK in Canada Judge Cory is getting restless. The British government promised, but has resisted, publishing his report into collusion and his recommendations that there should be public inquiries into, among others, the deaths of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson. In time his report will either be published or leaked in full.
But, out of the blue, by pure coincidence, like the cavalry to the rescue of the besieged British, Professor Des Rea, the chair of the Policing Board proposes a Truth Commission! It is my belief that as the trail increasingly leads to 10 Downing Street a Truth Commission might just suit the British government as a means of sidestepping the truth and keeping its secrets buried.
Just four weeks ago I wrote here that the British government would skilfully weave its way through such a process so that, "we would never get passed the private or the sergeant, the colonel or the general to establish the fact of state terrorism, sanctioned from the top. The hearings would be dragged out for years upon years. Documents will have been shredded or gone missing, witnesses have died off, memories 'faded'.
There is absolutely no support for a Truth Commission. At a conference in Derry last month on this very subject only one person in the audience thought it a good idea. Yet, according to Professor Rea a Truth Commission could help address "the unsolved cases of 1,800 victims" and could "prove more useful than a series of judicial inquiries". He also proposed an amnesty for all those who could have faced charges and provoked instant outrage from unionist spokespersons at there being any equivalence between freedom fighters and oppressors (though those weren't their exact euphemisms).
Professor Rea reassures us that his proposals are not an attempt to thwart public inquiries into the deaths of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson. But you can be sure that with those proposals originating from such an 'august' source (and which also coincide with the views of Chief Constable Hugh Orde) the British government will find them 'irresistible' and 'worthy of consideration'.
Relatives robbed of their loved ones as a result of collusion between loyalists and British forces have fought long and hard to establish who exactly was responsible for their deaths. This proposed commission would rob them again because its purpose undoubtedly would be to produce a 'truth' that tells a lie.