Irish Republican News · January 24, 2008
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
The pain of the past

By Mary Nelis

He told it as it was. How his brother had been shot dead by the SAS, five bullets pumped into his back. The RUC had told his brother he would be dead before Christmas and he was. No one in authority came to the home to tell his Mother what had happened. There were no enquiries or explanations. When they finally got his clothes from the RUC, they were in shreds, torn apart like his body by the force of the bullets.

There was no bitterness in the quiet voice of the man when he spoke at the Eames/Bradley consultation meeting at St. Columb’s Park House. No anger, no sneers, no words of hate or calls for revenge.

But there was no mistaking the pain in the voice of a man whose boyhood had been scarred by the image of his slain brother.

Pain was also there in the voices of other who spoke and one could sense in their word that some had come to terms with their loss while others were still locked into the past.

The objective of this latest consultation exercise is to ask the public, especially the bereaved how we collectively address the legacy of the past thirty years of conflict. It has already generated its own conflict by leaks in the media over alleged proposals for an amnesty for all protagonists and whether what happened could be termed a war.

It was evident from the meeting that political Unionism representing many of those bereaved, has not moved beyond its own anger and pain to acknowledge that all victims and survivors should be afforded equal respect and recognition. Those with a mindset concerned only with apportioning blame made no positive contribution to the meeting for they cannot see beyond the past any means to achieving a better future.

As with all such meetings, there were people there who have made a career out being victims. They turn up faithfully to state their case, which is usually about demonising and labelling those they believe are responsible for their victim hood and attacking anyone who does not share their particular viewpoint. Their pain and anguish is all the more acute for they cannot or will not move beyond it.

Nor do they take responsibility or accept that many of the victims of the conflict were created by the State. Thus they talk of the Provo’s as the only protagonists of the conflict and they want, even demand their ‘pound of flesh’. They have not come to terms with the loss of those they loved or in the wider sense with the loss of their political power and self esteem, in terms of the political changes of the past forty years, and so their focus is solely on vengeance against the perpetrators.

Those bereaved by the actions of a State appear more focused on establishing the truth. They have mourned their loss and their concern is to find out the circumstances that have left them bereaved.

The hierarchy of victim’s mindset has flourished under the many initiatives set up by the British Government.

There are suspicions especially in the Republican/Nationalists community that the common agenda of these initiatives is to divert attention away from the increasing demands for a truth recovery process that would allow all victims and survivors access to the truth on an equal basis.

The relatives who stood outside Stormont last Monday, are a reminder to the British Government and to Unionist politicians that the thousand bereaved families they represent will not be put off by high flying initiatives. These are the forgotten, the people who were written out of the Bloomfield report in 1998 and who are still being written out of British proposals on victims needs. Bloomfield a former head of the British civil service in the North, was commissioned by the British Government to initiate a consultation exercise, addressed at victims, in much the same way as Lord Eames and Denis Bradley, in order ‘to establish a way of remembering them’.

Them in British Government speak, and echoed by Bloomfield meant British Army personnel, RUC members, and prison officers who were deemed in the report as meriting ‘special concern’.

As recommended by Bloomfield, the British Government went on to appoint the then Minister of the British Armed Forces in the North as the ‘Victims Commissioner’, thus establishing a league table of deserving and undeserving victims.

Since then the remit to address the needs of the bereaved has extended to a ‘Victims Minister, four trauma advisory panels, for each regional Health Authority, the Historic Enquiries Team investigations, and the appointment of a Victims Commissioner, in itself controversial.

A veritable industry has grown up around Victims that has not resolved the bewilderment and sense of loss of the bereaved, many of whom have never even been afforded an opportunity to ask questions about the deaths of those they loved. At least they are now telling their story for part of their grief over the years was the wall of silence surrounding the circumstances of many of the deaths. Overwhelmingly, they simply want to know the truth.

At the St Columb’s Park meeting, Denis Bradley revealed that the Consultative group had access to the Stephens report which may have precipitated Unionist hysteria around the question of amnesty and the description of the conflict as a war.

The report spanning three enquiries by John Stephens investigated allegations of collusion between the British intelligence services, the RUC and Unionist paramilitaries in the ‘dirty war’ of the past thirty years. The longest criminal investigation in British history, its findings have extended to 3000 pages, with 176 floppy disc attachments, of which only fifteen pages have been published.

If ever published in full as part of a truth recovery process, it may expose the extent of the collusion that has created many of the victims whose relatives now want the truth.

The Healing through Remembering cross community organisation produced an excellent report some time ago outlining several options to advance debate on truth recovery. The Making Peace with the Past report threatens no one and offers an excellent starting point for what will no doubt be challenging, traumatic and perhaps controversial period in our history.

The majority of the bereaved, the survivors of the conflict and indeed that vast section of people who suffered the horrors of arrest, imprisonment, house searches, intimidation, harassment and who appear to be excluded from the category of victim, have no fear of such a debate for they want to make peace with all who share this island.

Can the same be said of the British Government? If they are sincere about addressing the legacy of the past they could start by publishing Stephens.

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© 2008 Irish Republican News