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Why we need full truth about decommissioning

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Liam Clarke

Liam Clarke

Liam Clarke

If the British and Irish governments do not request and publish an inventory of decommissioned weapons, it tells us a great deal about their commitment to truth-recovery.

The IICD, or Independent International Commission on Decommissioning to give it its full title, has deposited such an inventory with the US State Department to be released only on foot of a joint application by the British and Irish governments.

The IICD gives a strong hint that the governments shouldn't make the request anytime soon. Doing so might tread on toes and discourage future acts of decommissioning, the IICD argues.

This is information which the governments commissioned and paid for on our behalf. If they decline to get it and publish it, that will send the clearest possible signal that the secrets of the Troubles, or at least any which can cause embarrassment to important interests, will not be tackled until those most affected are either dead, or beyond caring.

In its report, the IICD says that peace in Northern Ireland 'means that however reprehensible some acts are that were committed in the past, at some point a line needs to be drawn under them - never to forget, but to be able to move on'.

'Never to forget,' they say. But, by refusing us the facts of decommissioning, they deny us the opportunity to remember.

No outside body, no matter how well-meaning, is entitled to take such decisions on behalf of our society.

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An individual dealing with traumatic events is generally advised not to suppress the memory, but to face it with the help of others.

Perhaps the same is true of a society; facing the past may free us from its spell. It will certainly help overcome the myths built on partial information.

The decision to bury hard facts about our troubled past cannot be taken on the nod. This is an issue that requires serious political debate which will consider the total impact on society - not just on paramilitary groups.

Some argue that we should never have expected the IICD to fulfill its promise and give us this information; the paramilitary groups would never allow it.

The same argument was made over decommissioning itself. Before it happened, it was described as too much to expect and also meaningless.

It was so easy, we were told by armchair generals who had never tried, to import guns that decommissioning was an empty gesture.

That wasn't true. Arms-importation is hazardous and breaking the taboo on decommissioning was a very significant move. It didn't represent defeat; it was an earnest of intent on which political progress could be built. The UVF, who retained and used weapons and again deployed them last month, now complain that they are marginalised.

In contrast, Sinn Fein and republicanism benefited from large-scale decommissioning as people started to feel that it was safe to vote for them or, in the case of unionists, to make political agreements with them.

Giving us the facts of what happened may build further confidence. In any case, there is something irritatingly patronising about the IICD's suggestion that we are denied the opportunity to find out.


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