Our mish-mash memories hinder the healing process
Dealing with the past is the responsibility not just of victims, but of everyone with a stake in our society, says Kate Turner
Often people say that ‘dealing with the past’ should be left for a generation. From a different vantage, however, a society which does not learn from the mistakes of the past is doomed to repeat them.
As the events of recent days have shown, it is all too easy for generations born after the Good Friday Agreement to become embroiled in violence relating to the conflict.
Without authorative accounts of our history, we either forget, sustain and propagate partial versions, or indeed deny alternative histories of the ‘other side’.
Surely for a society that has come through so much it is not beyond our collective abilities to find a way to deal with the past that builds a better future?
The responses to the Saville Report and the events following have been largely positive.
It is by no means a perfect solution for anyone, but the moral power of truth for the families concerned has been genuinely moving.
Those who have been most critical about the report have asked questions about the myriad of other deaths and events over the decades of conflict.
Saville was established to do a particular job, but the broader point is valid nonetheless.
The question for us all then is can we find a comprehensive and inclusive way to deal with all the events of the conflict, and one that includes consideration of the context, the causes and the consequences of those events? There is little merit in replicating the costs or the legal wrangling of the Saville Inquiry, even if it were possible.
There is no perfect solution, but the alternative to trying is for the ongoing patchwork of unconnected processes to continue.
In effect, this would mean that the various inquiries, official examinations, unofficial approaches, media stories and community initiatives would continue in a disconnected and unmanaged fashion.
Such a mish-mash arguably perpetuates the danger of feeding our different versions of events, provokes periods of political instability, and causes more division rather than less. However, what Bloody Sunday also shows us is that there is more than one method of dealing with the past.
The Saville Inquiry underlined the power of truth recovery. The statement by the Prime Minister and the actions of church leaders spoke to the role of thoughtful apology and sincere acknowledgement.
However, there is also the Museum of Free Derry, the annual commemoration of the event including the Bloody Sunday Memorial Lecture and the stories that have been collected and shared over the years.
There are many ways of dealing with the past — some official, some community-led, some time-bound, some ongoing. It will not be possible to find a process that meets the needs of all. At times too much is expected from the victims of our conflict.
The responsibility for taking this forward is a collective one, shared not just by victims but also by Government, civil society, churches, loyalists, republicans, security force members and other stakeholders.
Healing Through Remembering is an organisation with a diverse membership from across these constituencies with very different views on dealing with the past.
Crucially, however, our experience on working on these issues suggests that, with good will, respect for the integrity of others, and a bit of patience, people in Northern Ireland are ready and able for this task.
Kate Turner is the director of Healing Through Remembering