Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 22 November 2014

One City One Book, Ghosts of the Past: Full transcript

Victim Commissioner Kathryn Stone
Victim Commissioner Kathryn Stone
One City One book with author David Park held at the Belfast Telegraph. Rev Dr Harold Good. Picture by Brian Thompson/Presseye
Peter Sheridan, head of Co-operation Ireland at the One City One Book event
Kate Turner
Peter Osborn, Community Relations Council
Sean Walsh, former IRA prisoner

Ghosts of the Past was the title for this year's penultimate One City One Book event.

A diverse range of contributors gathered at Belfast Telegraph offices to explore legacy issues, victim hood and personal perspectives of the conflict.

This year's choice of book for the annual One City One Book reading festival is The Poets' Wives by Co Down author David Park.

Extracts from another of Park's fiction-novels, The Truth Commissioner, were the catalyst for discussion at the OCOB event at the Belfast Telegraph on May 28, chaired by journalist Brian Rowan, as the novel engages the impact of internecine political and cultural warfare and their often tragic circumstances.

The Truth Commissioner won the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for its contribution to peace and reconciliation.

David Park read from the novel at the OCOB event and the following is an edited version of the conversation that followed.

 

Brian Rowan makes a series of points about “truth and justice” and then invites outgoing Victims' Commissioner Kathryn Stone to speak.

Kathryn Stone said: “Acknowledgement, truth, justice and reparation are themes that have kind of gone round and round and round this place for much, much longer than I have been here.

“And just as I was reading from your book David two things struck me.

“The first is something that I have heard many times, which is that the truth is more than just a collection of the facts and for so many people it's so many different contexts that is so, so true.

“The other thing that struck me is that I spent time with a very fragile, very frail elderly lady who had received her report from the Historical Enquiries Team.

“She had waited, and she had waited for this report, because this report was going to give her the truth.

“I sat with her and she said 'there you go love, that's the truth, but it's not what I wanted it to be'.”

Referencing a February conference, Kathryn Stone added: “It is truth that exercised people the most and the discussions about what truth means and how do we know when we've got the truth and whose truth will it be anyway. Will it be that truth or that one. Will it be the one that I want for me or for my family. And I think these questions are just going to carry on, I think, going round and round and round, unless we have some process, some mechanism that affords people the truth that they want, whether or not we can deliver that to them. Whether or not we can give that to them is a different thing. But sadly sometimes truth, real life, mirrors fiction in all sorts of ways and I think you have hit those themes brilliantly in your book.”

 

Brian Rowan asks Kathryn Stone about the “trite comment” mentioned by commentators “drawing a line and moving on”.

Kathryn Stone said: “There are some people who have met who have said draw a line under this, lets move on, we need to forgive, we need to put the past behind us, but those people form a tiny minority of the people I have spent time with.

“The majority of the people will say that is possibly the most insulting, offensive thing you could say to them.

“Actually in real terms, it is actually very difficult to move on when your legs were blown off or when there is an empty space in the bed where your husband used to be.

“There is a very difficult, very visceral, powerful things for people to think about so this idea of a universal amnesty for people as proposed by, I think, Peter Hain and by others is not something that the majority of victims I have spent time with want to see at all. They want those things – acknowledgement, truth, justice and reparation.”

 

Brian Rowan asks Paul Doherty to share his “vision of truth and justice”. Paul lost his father in the UVF 1974 Rose & Crown bomb.

Paul Doherty said: “Just listening to David reading of his passages there, the comment where healing may not be possible, I think that is probably right. Healing may not be possible in a clinical sense, if you like.

“For me personally, complete healing is unlikely to ever occur. The incident that killed my father over 40 years ago and it still dominates conversations I have when members of our family gather together, as extraordinary as that may seem, that is still the case...”

He added: “It think that it would not serve the purpose well to continue to point the finger of blame and to list the fallout from my own personal tragedy and to continue that into the future, I think, is not helpful. So in some ways you do have to move on and trite and all as it is, Brian, I think you do have to draw a line to a certain extent.

“But I think as Kathryn mentioned, acknowledgement is extremely important and for it is the most important aspect of finding a truth and reconciliation process.

“You know, acknowledgement of the hurt and I think in a wider context there really needs to be a narrative from people who are much more knowledgeable and attune to these things that I am.

“There needs to be a background canvas outlining the context of this conflict, because I think that often gets lost in the detail of it and I think we don't as a community, as a wider community we don't have a clear aspect to that because we have been through 30 or 40 years of conflict.”

 

Brian Rowan said: “So, the what that happened, more than the why, Paul, you mean?”

Paul Doherty said: “Yes, to a certain extent, but I think the why is important as well.”

Brian Rowan said: “No, that is what I mean. That's what is missing on that canvas is it?”

Paul Doherty said: “Yes, I think so and the broader brush strokes of what various groups and factions did. I think to contextualise the pain is likely to be helpful but to just go on to my point about acknowledgement, acknowledgement is vital.

“From my own personal point of view there were four young men who were convicted of the bombing of the Rose and Crown a couple of years after the event. Two of them were 16, two of them were 17.

“Now, I am not a bomb expert, but I wouldn't have thought they would have had the skills to construct a bomb or even plan the event. The folk who did that have never been named or brought to justice.

“Those men who did that are likely to be elderly at this stage. I don't think there is any point or anything to be gained by putting them in front of a court or anything else.

“But I do think it would be important that the young men who carried out that atrocity acknowledge who it was and who put them up to it and why they were put up to it and the sort of pressures they were put under as young men at that time and the sort of pressure from the godfathers, if you like. That is a trite word as well, but how they were put up to that and why they were put up to that.”

 

David Park then ponders if “truth and reconciliation is compatible with truth and justice”.

David said: “I do not know. That is a question we need to address.

“Another thing that was obvious to me, I can't claim to have done huge research into South Africa.

“I prefer to stay in the world of the imagination as far as possible but the one thing that South Africa had is a powerful, modern leadership in Mandela and we cannot ever in this context, promote, suggest, engage in a process that is aimed at reconciliation unless people look to the top table and see reconciliation at the top table on a human level.

“Now, I don't sit here and think for some of the politicians involved, that is easy, but I do expect them to talk and point out what their difficulties are and to find as best as possible an answer to that. That is leadership we all need and there is no credible process that is possible without that visual, political reconciliation.”

 

Brian Rowan addresses Alan McBride, who lost his wife Sharon and father-in-law in the 1993 Shankill bomb.

Brian said: “Thomas Begley was killed in the Shankill bomb. Sean Kelly was badly wounded. They become the bogey men of the Shankill bomb in many senses and yet they are only a jigsaw piece in that story. They were at the end of the chain, if you like.” Brian then asks Alan what acknowledgement, truth and justice would look like for him.

 

Alan said: “For myself acknowledgement did play a huge role in my own particular journey.

“For those of you that remember back 20 years ago when Sharon was killed I had a very public campaign against Gerry Adams.

“I was basically taking placards and standing outside offices and chased him all over Boston, Washington, New York, Dublin and of course the reason I did that was because he was the person that carried the coffin of the dead bomber.

“Where as now as a much older person I understand the situation that he was in at the time and probably couldn't have done much much else.

“But at the time, as a 29-year-old, I had just lost my wife and I found it very hard.

“I had this campaign aimed at Gerry Adams and for me that campaign wasn't just about taking placards and standing outside offices, I actually started to write to him.

“I wrote to him on about nine different occasions and sent him little photographs of Sharon. I suppose what I was trying to do was to try and connect Gerry Adams with who my wife was, as a wife and a mother and as a best friend.

“I though it was somewhat easy to dismiss the Troubles as 2,500 murdered or, 6m Jews killed in the Holocaust, if you happened to have known just one of those people this can't, at least in my mind, I thought, you can't just dismiss them in the same way.

“I sent him all these letters and told him little stories about Sharon, and just to try and really connect him with who she was.

“I remember the last letter I sent to him, I sent him a much more recent letter, but certainly back then, the last letter I sent him, I thought I would get clever and write to him in Irish.

“I went down to the library and wrote this thing out in English that I wanted to say and then I got a dictionary and started translating into Irish.

“It became apparent quite quickly there wasn't always a corresponding Irish word for every English word which is a real bugger when you are trying to write a letter in Irish.

“But anyway, I sent it off to him and whatever happened it did the trick. It was the only one, bar the most recent one, he actually responded to. This was two or three years after the Shankill bomb. “This letter came from Gerry Adams and said on it, Alan, we understand your hurt and pain, but you have to understand there is nobody working harder for peace and reconciliation than Sinn Fein.

“And that letter arrived just a while after the IRA had murdered a guy actually who was cleaning toilets in an RUC station in Lurgan, by the name of Fred Antony.

“His little daughter Emma was in the car when he was killed and she was left very badly brain damaged and I still see that wee girl from time to time.

“I can see her photograph in the Newsletter at the time with all the tubes coming out of her face and stuff and I had to say to myself 'How in the name of God can you be proclaiming to work for peace and reconciliation when an organisation you are linked with can carry out these kind of atrocities?'.

“Not against members of the police, this guy just happened to be a cleaner in a police station.

“Sort of fast forward that a wee bit til years later and I've gone through a period of reflection where I've started to ask questions about 'why?'.

“I thought about my upbringing and how I wasn't introduced to people who weren't like me, people that I threw stones at, people we would have rioted with after school.

“I started to think about their upbringing and how they were introduced to difference and I came to the conclusion that if those young people had been brought up elsewhere in the UK they probably wouldn't have got involved in the things they got involved with because there was a context here.”

 

Brian Rowan said: “You've said that about Thomas Begley and Sean Kelly, haven't you?

Alan said: “Yes. There was a context here. Now, it doesn't excuse them for what they did but it definitely, for me anyway, means if we are looking at peace and reconciliation it's just too convenient to demonise all those people that took part in the conflict.

“My own father was in the UDA when I was growing up so I kind of knew that.

“It's one thing to kind of think that and theorise about that, but quite something else to come with the reality.

“I was asked by Oscar Daley, who is a psychologist, to go to Edinburgh to be part of a symposium on psychiatry where they were looking at PTSD.

“And on the way over I was on the plane with two former prisoners, one from the UVF side and one from the IRA side.

“To cut a very long story short when we touched down in Edinburgh, the UVF guy asked me if I would like go for a drink later on and just have a conversation.

“I was very aware of the fact we didn't bring the IRA guy with us and it would look as if I was taking sides. And I had always, with my campaigning work, tried to be quite consistent that I was against terror in whatever corner it came from.

“As we were talking the IRA guy came over and introduced himself and the three of us ended up going out in Edinburgh that night.

“And that was the first time, I think, I had ever actually spoken to anybody from the IRA.

“We were in Edinburgh and we told our stories and at the end of the story the IRA guy touched me on the hand and said 'You know Alan, what happened that day on the Shankill Road was wrong and I, as an Irish republican, am sorry'.

“He never went on to say 'but you have to understand' in the way that Gerry Adams had all those years previous, but what he did in that moment of time was, he drew me into the story.”

 

Brian Rowan said: “There was no but”

Alan McBride said: “I asked him about his upbringing and why he joined the IRA and he told me how, when he was growing up, he saw the British army coming into the New Lodge and smashing up houses.

“He saw friends imprisoned, interned. He saw people killed and wanted to do something when he was the age to do it.

“I couldn't have heard his story if he hadn't have first heard mine so for me acknowledgement is extremely important.

“Whether or not we can actually take that experience in that wee pub in Edinburgh and present it as a model that can be repeated throughout the land I am not quite so sure, because I suppose in my case it was quite simple.

“Most people, and I would challenge anybody to say the Shankill Road bomb wasn't wrong, it was wrong, in terms of how it was carried out and why it was carried out.

“But when it comes to the war and people that use the language of the war and there are others, maybe people,who would consider them not be innocent targets, they were legitimate targets or whatever, and so in the terminology of war, I don't know if everybody would get that acknowledgement that something was wrong.

“For me what it did it kind of opened up the space, opened up the door, for the first time, I can tell you, Barney, when I came back from that trip I was never the same again.

“Rather than doing the campaigning and standing outside with placards and doing all that kind of stuff, I knew it was much more beneficial for me to sit around a table and talk and develop dialogue.

“I know now people I would be proud to call friends of mine, took part in the conflict.

“To be honest with you, I have never wanted to know what they did, because I didn't want it to change how I think about them so I have never asked questions.”

 

Brian Rowan addresses Alan McBride and Harold Good (former Methodist President and witness to IRA decommissioning).

Brian said: “I know in part of your journey, you came to meet Gerry Adams and Harold facilitated that meeting.

“I know you won't want to betray any confidences in terms of that room Harold, but how valuable was it, what was your sense of that experience of being in that room with Gerry and Alan when they met for the first time?”

 

Harold Good said: “I think the word acknowledgement was hugely important as I poured the tea and let them talk.

“There was acknowledgement in both directions. Alan has illustrated that in other stories he has told.

“What I felt was happening in that moment, and I was hugely privileged to be in the presence of two people who had every reason never ever to want to speak to each other, one through huge embarrassment, the other through hurt and pain.

“And they were, one was acknowledging the pain, the other was acknowledging the story of the other.

“I think that word, acknowledgement, in our Healing through Remembering work, is the word that keeps coming up.”

 

Alan McBride said: “When he came into Harold's house that day, the first thing he said, he apologised for the Shankill bomb and he never added a but.

“I think that day for me I was able to make my peace with him and

to even acknowledge the role he played in terms of bringing republicans away from violence and I know that must have been a very difficult road and I know there is others on the loyalist side they have played a similar role.

“And that doesn't mean, by the way, to say everything is fine and dandy now because in an ideal world if we could get justice I would still say that if you did that, while you're not responsible for all the Troubles in Northern Ireland, if we could get it, I would take it.

“I know it's impossible and if we are going to get it, it's going to be a few foot soldiers that will probably be charged and the guys that you hear Paul talk about, the two young men that carried that atrocity out were what, 16 or 17 years old, but there were always one who didn't plant the bomb but who were culpable.

“Those people, I don't know if you will ever.”

 

Brian Rowan addresses Seanna Walsh, who in 2005 read the IRA end game statement declaring the formal end to the armed campaign.

Brian said: “Seanna, in terms of a republican contribution to a process, would it being about preserving your own truth while looking for others or would it be a genuine two way process?”

Seanna said: “For myself the major impetus in all of this has to be the future. It has to be young people.

“In a lot of the work that we do, or attempt to do today, is to help young people understand what actually happened during the conflict and the narrative as opposed to just black and white photos or taking the romance out of it.

“We would be involved in an exercise to attempt to de-glamorise the idea of the struggle in the way that some people try to put a gloss over it.

“Jackie and Peter and all sorts of different people would be involved in that.

“But, you see, one of the central tragedies to the whole conflict here, for instance, is that I went to jail when I was 16.

“While I was in prison an uncle of mine walked into an IRA ambush where the IRA volunteers were involved in trying to kill members of the British army.

“Two members, two friends, two comrades of mine ended up getting sentenced for that.

“You have all that hurt, all that at times unspoken side of the conflict which is bubbling away there.

So, it's a lot more complicated than this bunch of guys over here did this to this bunch of guys over here.

“From a personal point of view, I never saw myself as involved in conflict with unionism, with loyalism.”

 

Brian Rowan said: “They did”

Seanna Walsh said: “I accept that.

“But I always saw myself as being in conflict with the British state and I am not going to try and justify any aspect of the conflict at all. I am simply trying to help you understand where I was coming from.

“And again it goes back to how do we ensure that we are the final conflict generation and that our young people.

“If you look at the craziness of the political system in the south of Ireland where almost 100 years after the civil war in the south that the two parties whose great grandas and great grannies slaughtered each other are the two opposing, same policies, same economic policies, same social policies and everything else, but they are still glaring at each other over those barricades from 1923.

“For me it's about finding ways, and it is not just going to be one way. There is no one truth, or one answer to this, but finding ways of patching that up and healing our society.”

 

Brian Rowan highlights the point Seanna raised regarding how we ensure there are no further conflict generations.

He then mentions Jackie McDonald's concerns about another generation “getting sucked in to another cycle of this”.

Former assistant chief constable, Peter Sheridan, now chief executive of Cooperation Ireland, is invited to speak.

 

Peter Sheridan said: “I have written down a few remarks on what David (Park) was reading. 'I was worried that the victims would be encouraged to believe that the truth would be healing to everything but in some ways it adds to the despair and the darkness'.

“I worry that our concentration on the judicial system and justice system will do exactly that for people.

“I think that we have to be very honest with victims about the limitations of what any judicial system can bring.

“I don't for one minute believe we will ever do justice to the scale of the injustice on any side in the conflict.

“Long before Paul had talked, I had written down 'what is justice for the victim?'

“Is it the person who pulled the trigger, the neighbour who provided information, the person who drove the car, the person who ordered the killing, the person who took the weapons away?

“The reality of the justice system is it is not going to deliver and yet our politicians continue to persuade people, the victims, that there is a justice system out there that they will get justice.”

 

Brian Rowan asks “are they leading them up the garden path?

Peter Sheridan said: “I think there is an element of leading them up the garden path because they are not being honest with the limitations of what a judicial process can be, particularly long and many years after some of the events.

“I think Seanna is absolutely right. There is no one answer to the past.

“I don't think you can dismiss the judicial system if somebody wants that, as long as they want that and are going in with their eyes wide open and that they understand the limitations of what that will bring, never mind the most they will...spend in jail is two years.

“But to go on to your second point about young people. Yes, there is a danger that just at the time when we needed probably about 6,000 jobs into communities that were, that saw the worst of the conflict, we got a recession and increased poverty in areas.

“On one hand you've got young people who are being offered the dole and very little of it, the welfare system and very little of it, on the other hand people who will offer them drugs, alcohol, excitement, fun and a hairy chest in their own community and the opportunity to be in a gang. At 16 or 17 to any of us, that would be very exciting.

“Then ultimately they end up in jail and there is a danger that there is a new generation of young people that could get caught in that because we haven't taken action to deal with it.

“I hear Seanna talk about the de-romanticising of prison, de-glamorising, is critically important, but if I ask is there a process in our establishment to do that, I don't see it.”

 

Barney invites senior loyalist Jackie McDonald (UDA) to talk about his concerns regarding young people in his community “wanting a piece of the action”.

Jackie said: “When Gerry Adams was released from Antrim the kids from Sandy Row decided he shouldn't have been released. They found him guilty so they started attacking the PSNI with petrol bombs.

“I was away for a weekend and it was Sunday night and I got back on the Monday and I got a phone call from Sandy Row to say they were gathering again, they were coming from Antrim and north Belfast and all over to have another go at the police because Gerry Adams was released. And I said to the fella tell them I was coming down.

“Most of them disappeared when they heard I was coming, they knew they wouldn't be allowed to do it, sort of thing...

“Most of them disappeared but there were a few left and I says 'what's the problem about Gerry Adams getting out?'. 'Ah, he did this and he did that'. I says 'How do you know?

“I says the Stewart brothers, we have two UVF super-grasses a couple of years ago, stood in the dock for weeks pointing the finger at people saying they did this and they did that. Says everybody, all the accused walked out.

“I says, what did you do then? I says, the only person found guilty was somebody caught on CCTV actually buying a sledgehammer.

“So, the evidence wasn't there, he wasn't guilty, they weren't guilty, there wasn't enough to prove them guilty.

“So if you just want to look at one side of it than the other, rather than looking at the whole broad picture and there is a real danger, and I have the greatest sympathy with victims.

“I have listened to Alan on several occasions and Alan tells the truth. Listening to Paul there, that's the truth.

“But the paramilitaries, for 30 odd years, lived a lie.

“You know, I work closely with Seanna and we work very well together, I think.

“We have a lot of similarities and a lot of experiences and we are trying to put them right, from the benefit of our own experiences.

“But the IRA were not just killing members of the security forces. “The UDA wasn't just killing IRA men. We lived this lie and we perpetrated the myth to try and somehow justify ourselves.

“Again, as Paul said, 16 or 17-year-old kids out killing people. “Organisations killed and they have to hold their hands up. “Whether the security forces look and say it was the army council of the IRA are guilty, the inner council of the UDA is guilty or the leaders of the UVF are guilty, whatever, how are they ever going to sort out what is the truth? I don't know.

“I know from the HET, two families in particular I know who got a HET report.

“There was young lad killed on the Donegall Road, Roden Street, in 1973 and for 30 odd years his family believed - his grandmother was a Catholic and she lived over in the west - and he got shot dead and for 30 odd years most of that family believed that the IRA, the IRA did shoot him, but they believed that the IRA just shot him when he was over visiting his grandmother.

“And in those 30 odd years since that happened the people had kids and grand-kids and were married and there was in laws and all sorts of things, a wide extended family.

“The truth was through the HET enquiry, this young lad, who was a member of the UDA, he was over trying to shoot Catholics and he had done it on more than one occasion, but he did it once to often and the IRA was waiting on him. They took his own gun off him and shot him dead with it.

“And when the family got that news they were devastated. They came and asked me what to do, how were they going to tell their grand-kids, how were they going to tell the in laws. You know..”

 

Brian Rowan said: “The truth was a poison in that sense?”.

Jackie McDonald said: “The truth was a poison.

“What is the truth? Who is going to believe the truth?

“If Gerry Adams stood up and swore on a stack of bibles, maybe people who vote for Sinn Fein might believe him, or if somebody on the loyalist side stood up, who is going to believe him.

“It's the Sunday World syndrome I call it. You know, you believe what you want to believe, because there is a lot of nonsense about the place.

“I don't know if we are ever going to go with the truth.

“There has to be an accommodation and I'd be one of the ones who say or has said in the past 'draw a line in the sand'. That is not the answer, but there is no answer.

“You know, as I say, and I've spoken to Kathryn, I am just trying to ensure that there is no more victims because there is young lads out there who want to do what their granda did or want to do what their great uncle did.

“They would rather be a life sentence prisoner than be a nobody.

“There is a great danger out there, unless there is some sort of leadership shown, that these young lads are going to fall into that pit.

“There is a situation in north Belfast at the minute where somebody is going to get very seriously injured, more than likely.

“The usual scenario is because of what happened somebody gets caught and go to prison and then somebody else will get seriously injured and so it goes on.”

 

Brian Rowan said: “So that danger is still there?”

Jackie McDonald: “Yes. So, how do we, where do we, I get more truth out of Seanna through the work we do than what I get out of whole lot of people on the loyalist side.

“If I was to say that, even though it's the truth, people don't want to hear it.”

 

Brian Rowan asked Peter Osborne to comment on David Park's earlier point about how you can have reconciliation when we don't have reconciled political leadership.

Peter Osborne, is the former chair of the Parades Commission and now chair of the Community Relations Council.

Peter Osborne said: “I have to say I almost feel as if I am not qualified to enter this conversation but the sort of experience and the quality of the conversation we have had tonight is something we have all experienced from time to time.

“The passion is just really important that we have these sort of dialogues because apart from the acknowledgement and the hurt and the anger I think it is also important that wider society, civil society, the people in the room here are part of it, also become really determined, as the people in this room are that we never, never get to stage where those sort of things happen again.

“And there is something, probably really important on the victim side that people hear about a determination never, ever to let this sort of thing happen again.

“I think then when you play that into the political arena it becomes more messy.

“I think people want to see politics working here but they are certainly not seeing at the high level of politics the motivation to be, to do what is needed in the reconciliation side of things, to be front people for that reconciliation project.”

 

Brian Rowan asks Peter Osborne “Do you think these sort of rooms are further ahead in terms of a willingness to have this type of conversation than the political leadership is?”

Peter Osborne said: “Certainly further ahead and I think some of the strategic thinking is further ahead and the importance around peace building and a reconciliation project in this room is further ahead.

“But I think there is something about, you know, it was a huge achievement and people did take political risks in '98 and subsequent agreements, but in some ways that was the easier task to the much more complex and deeper and important task of building the peace.

“Building the peace isn't going to be done by the politicians. “Building the peace is going to be done by the guys in the room here.

“It is going to be done by a lot of other people who live in communities and they need to have the support to do that.

“I suspect the support at a political level is important to give the go ahead to the reconciliation side of building the peace, but actually the work is going to be done within communities.

“I was struck at Windsor Castle recently by the courage of people on all sides to do some of the things that needed to be done there.

“But there was a very clear message from the two governments.

“I think complacency and indifference and taking things for granted are huge, real risks within this society 16 years on from the agreement and 20 years on from the ceasefires that we take things for granted and then things just creep up on us.

“What the two governments were saying in Windsor Castle was never again are we going to let relationships on these islands sour in the way that they were sour 30 or 40 years ago

“That is easily said. The hugely important thing to be said but then actually people need to make sure that we move on from that.

“And the sourness of the relationships, if it is to happen again, will come from this region, this part of these islands.

“And I think the priority to continue to promote reconciliation and peace building has waned here.

“Partly because of indifference, partly because of the importance of preserving devolution as people's focus and not actually the investment in the reconciliation and peace building work, which is going to be done by the guys in the room as well as wider society than any other people who can contribute to it.

“That is the important work and the politics is a distraction in some ways, but what is really important at a senior political level is they understand and commit to the reconciliation project as well as getting the message out to wider society. That is where the real work will be done.”

 

Brian Rowan asks QUB law professor Kieran McEvoy, who has spent his academic life looking for answers to truth processes and addressing the past, to speak.

Kieran takes a moment to praise David Park's book, The Truth Commissioner, then adds: “In terms of the broader conversation, I think we are there in terms of the design of this thing.

“There is only so many ways to do this and where we are now at is at a question of political will.

“The political rationale for doing it has been well exemplified now by the Gerry Adams arrest. The whole house of cards nearly came tumbling down there.

“I mean, I hope our political leaders across the water and in the Republic suddenly woke up to the fact if you take your eyes of the ball then the whole house of cards can come down.

“There is a politically compelling reason for doing this, there is a morally compelling reason, I think, for doing this...and the other thing is there is just a morality to this.

“I think sometimes when you are dealing with this stuff, all during the conflict we all managed to find ways of managing the suffering of the other and maybe psychologically we had to do that to find ways of managing and compartmentalising suffering of the other.

“But sometimes, whenever, and one of the reasons why you do a truth process, and the book captures this beautifully, is where sometimes and it won't be the same story and it won't be the same narrative, it won't be the same account of suffering of each and every person but a story will reach someone and it will hit you in the solar plexus and that is the point as a society.

“We need to be hit in the solar plexus by whatever story it is and so that's for me is the morally compelling reason.

“We are there, folks. We have messed around with this long enough, it's just a question of political will now.”

 

Brian Rowan invites Mark Thompson from Relatives for Justice to speak.

Mark Thompson said: “It's about managing expectations for people too.

“It is about what people want. If people are after a retributive truth they are not going to get it and it's going to be more hurtful.

“I think it's about the restorative truth. I think it is about trying to move forward in that context.

“I think we are, Kieran will know this better as an academic, in this phase of a meta conflict.

“The physical war has ended but it's who did what to who and who was legitimate and who isn't.

“There is the brilliant, brilliant, unique ability in this place to apportion blame and take absolutely no responsibility whatsoever and then within that there is the context of, it's very comfortable to blame loyalists and republicans but then you begin to factor in the state and it becomes slightly difficult and people take all these positions.

“It's uncomfortable and then you get this 10% figure. Well, we only killed 10% of the people but in the reality when we distil down into the truths it is much more complex than that, it's much more bigger and it shouldn't be about those percentages.

“So, it's about trying to work with people and get a sense of realism and it's also, touching on your point David that the closer you get to that truth the more repelled people are, the more reprehensible it becomes, and then what is it that they want.

“So, we have worked with people over the years and the closer we have got to finding stuff out the more it is they want a sense of justice and what does that justice mean, and for us it is not retributive it is restorative, it's transitional, because if you are going to find within a criminal justice context it doesn't deliver.

“I have sat with people in courts and they had people convicted and it is meaningless. Actually it is worse for them in some senses.

“But the criminal justice system is become a default mechanism in the absence of a process so we need to understand why people are going to courts.

“It's to find out and lots of people that I am involved with, in developing legal strategies and going to court and representing and doing stuff with lawyers, is about trying to have a validation of an experience where by they talk about they are vilified.”

“And they have nowhere else to go.

“So it's that context in which people engage that system. It's a default mechanism. People don't want to be there.

“For goodness sake, I am sitting in an inquest court still looking at Shoot to Kill and Teresa Carroll is now within care, she is 87 years of age.

“She said to me seven years ago when this stuff kicked off, 'Mark, I don't want to be here, I just want them to publish the Stalker Sampson report, redact all the names and just acknowledge what happened'.

“And ironically this paper wrote at the time, don't put the sins of the RUC on to the PSNI. Do that, and I think that is what people want, so it's about the restorative stuff.

“If you're going into a process that you are looking retribution out of I think you are on a lonely path and you are on a road to a cul-de-sac.

“And I think what is happening, largely with victims, is there is this political manipulation of telling them it is black and white, it's about a pound of flesh and it's about justice, and it is wrong.”

 

Brian Rowan asks Mark if it is “more about politics than the victim”.

Mark Thompson said: “Totally and it's about people defending the political, ideological positions that they have because they think, they fear, if the truth begins to unpack itself what is the consequences for them.”

 

Brian Rowan invites Sinn Fein's Jim Gibney to speak.

Jim said: “What is compelling republicans to, I suppose, you know, to complete the jigsaw in relation to truth recovery process is these harrowing stories that we just heard from Alan and Paul tonight.

“And there are other stories in the room from other people, not least of which Mark Thompson and his brother's killing by members of the British crown forces.

“So we are well aware of that, we are well aware of our history and our role in creating that awful tragedy but what we are looking for is participation from everybody who was involved in this conflict, who visited the awful stories we are hearing tonight on families in this society and that involves the British government and its forces, legal and illegal, the IRA and the loyalists.

“And I think that what Kieran is saying, he is right. We are there. The mechanism is there.

“I can reassure you that the political will is there from republicans to complete this peace process by a comprehensive and encompassing truth recovery process and I think where that is evident is in Haass.

“That is our commitment at this stage. It is not limited to that.

In my view, it has potential to expand beyond where it currently is and that is the business of negotiations.

“But I would say this, on these occasions, I think it is very important that we don't overlook how far we have come and if we had of been sitting, I remember it so well in the early 90s, if you had a group of people in a room, irrespective of who they were, none of them would have predicted what was about to happen in 94 with the ceasefires and then this rapid process of change which we all saw leading up to 1998, the formation of the Executive and all that came out of it.

“Now, the will that produced that set of circumstances is there today.

“Certainly on our side. The will that produced the republican gestures that brought us to where we are today is there and I think that is something which certainly Seanna and myself would readily acknowledge.

“So, I don't have the sense of despair on this issue. I don't have it. I think it's there to be done. We are close to it and it just needs the extra impetus, particularly from the British government and the Irish government and of course the help of other international agencies.”

 

Brian Rowan invites Kate Turner, the director of Healing Through Remembering, to speak.

Kate said: “Wishful thinking isn't enough for never again when Schindler's List was busy getting all the awards in the Oscars and everybody said this is a film that will show never again and it was only days before Rwanda happened so it takes work.

“We are not starting from nothing. When we look at this and think can we do truth and reconciliation it looks like this unattainable goal.

“We are in truth recovery. Can we do better than we are doing at the minute for individuals and for society and for the future? Yes.

“And that's where we need to start from rather than aiming for the top of the mountain and thinking is it going to do everything we want it to do.

“To add to Jim's list, that it's not just, because of where the conversation has gone, looking back at the conflict and Paul's context goes further than those involved in the violence.

“It's about the media, academics, the churches, you know, that needs to be part of it.

“Just to say, I re-read this book (The Truth Commissioner) at the weekend and I knew there was line that had grabbed me at the time, even though this book is so connected to my work, I find it quite emotional and difficult reading it.

“But the line I found the hardest is in that first chapter called Beginnings where it is Conor's personal narrative...where he talks about he had never been to places he had never been before.

“That line grabs me, personally it grabs me because I like going to new places, but for me it also feels like that claustrophobia of the conflict were we say when something happens 'they shouldn't have been walking there, they shouldn't have been doing that'.

“We are now a society or people scared to taking those steps so we need to have the courage to go to places we haven't gone before.”

 

Brian Rowan invites Harold Good to speak

Harold said: “Here we are. Northern Ireland sits around and we keep on coming back to it and back to it and the fundamental question, not for individual victims who desperately want healing, but as a society – do we want to be healed?”

He added: “Truth without grace can be very hurtful and damaging and can take us nowhere and can deepen the wounds. We need to find, whatever way you want to describe this word grace. It is worth exploring.”

 

* Amanda Ferguson is an award-winning freelance journalist from north Belfast. She can be found tweeting @AmandaFBelfast

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