Belfast Telegraph

Time to face the fact that we cannot really handle the truth

By Nuala McKeever

Between Ryan Giggs’ super injunction and Wayne Rooney’s hair transplant, some Man U players seem to be putting more effort into trying to cover up the facts than into winning games.

If newspaper stories are to be believed, these guys have as much chance of keeping it in their trousers as they do of keeping hair on their heads.

I say ‘the facts’ rather than ‘the truth’, because, as we all know, there are three sides to the truth — your truth, my truth and the truth.

We pride ourselves in Northern Ireland on being plain-speaking people. We tell it like it is. We speak our minds. We like to call a spade a spade.

Not to be confused with a Spad — which we like to call all sorts of things.

We talk about ‘the truth’ as if it were a solid object, something that can be looked at by everyone and agreed upon, unanimously, without dissent.

We bandy the concept around freely in conversation — “The truth is, I don’t really like bananas”. We read it in papers and magazines, “Jordan and Alex — The Truth!!!”. We use it as a stick to encourage good behaviour in children — “Tell the truth and shame the devil”.

And we wonder if having a Truth Commission would be a good thing for Northern Ireland, post-conflict, going forward (insert buzz word here).

The recent public debate about Mary McArdle’s job, and the rights of victims to have their opinions matter, has opened the door a little wider onto the room marked ‘Dealing With The Past’. There’s been a bad smell building up in that room now for a lot of years and all the visits by queens and presidents, all the elections to Westminster and the Assembly, all the good suits and photo opportunities, haven’t managed to mask the odour. It certainly hasn’t gone away, y’know. What’s struck me forcefully this last week is how we are passing the hurt of the Troubles on to the next generation — who didn’t actually live through them.

Just as there are those alive today who seem to feel the partition of Ireland as if it had happened yesterday, it’s our children now who’ll still be grieving and fighting over events that they weren’t actually witness to in years to come.

Would a Truth Commission help? I think it might if the name were changed. Semantics, you say. But no, words are very important.

Truth implies one way of seeing things. If we are to ease the pain for people living with the heartache of loss, then surely we need to agree that there is no one way of seeing things. There is no absolute truth.

A Facts and Reconciliation Commission might allow people to tell their stories, express their feelings, describe the impact of what they did or what was done to them and that way, reach some healing. I’m not sure truth is the goal. Because you can have all the truth you want but still be unhappy.

Being heard, understanding others’ attitudes and admitting responsibility for our own actions seem to me more valuable than a hard-to-define truth.

Reconciliation to ourselves and others is a difficult thing to do — to give up feelings of guilt and the urge to punish. And it can only happen when we accept that we don’t have a monopoly on the truth.

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