How do we ever start to Deal with the Past in Northern Ireland? When we’re still having trouble Dealing with the Present ...
The debate about the still haunting shadow of the Troubles and its victims is being highlighted this week by a special series in this paper.
It coincides with the government’s release of the details of a bleak public assessment of the Eames/Bradley Report. And with government confirmation that there will be no more mega-million inquiries.
A question mark, then, over how we proceed. Further complicated by a financial full-stop.
Even the words “victims’ issues” are today enough to make many people switch off.
But hundreds of thousands of lives were decimated by 40 plus years of violence here. We can’t just pretend this didn’t happen. That this doesn’t matter.
“Victims’ issues” actually come down to two that really count — starting with one that hardly gets talked about.
The practical issue.
A few years ago I took a call from a woman who told me, amid bitter tears, what her family, devastated by Troubles’ violence, really wanted.
One thousand quid.
It was a rough estimate she explained of the price of the specialist mattress her now-aging husband desperately needed to provide some respite from the constant pain his broken body had to endure. He’s been grievously injured in an atrocity years beforehand.
The family had had little official help. They felt left behind; forgotten.
She just wanted, she said, something to relieve the physical agony he’d suffered for so very long.
It is a story that resonates more as the years go on. Very many of those who were so terribly injured are now getting older.
Their physical problems are getting worse, not better.
Many are poor, unable to afford the small luxuries (my God, is a proper mattress a luxury?) that would give them some comfort.
If only all those hundreds of millions which have been spent on the likes of consultations and commissioners and fancy offices and over-priced lawyers had been channelled instead into a major fund to provide real help for those in dire need might it not have achieved more?
To the other big victims’ issue, then — what officialdom snappily calls “the truth recovery process”. Put bluntly — who did what? Who ordered what? And why?
But let’s not kid ourselves here.
Is there any real political will to uncover truth?
Official strategy isn’t about Dealing with the Past. It’s about Sealing Up the Past.
How we know they’re not really serious about transparency? An example
Right at the centre of the Process right now, are two men, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, who between them know much about what went on behind the scenes in a terror group that murdered thousands.
These men were not peripheral players in the republican movement. They were central. Right at its very top.
The revealing question is not — will they ever tell exactly what they know?
It’s — will they even be asked?
Will those “leading loyalists” now also being fawned over as part of the Process also be asked to talk about what they know?
We know the answer and we know why.
Daren’t rock the boat.
The government would prefer not to be Dealing with the Past when it is Dealing with the Process.
So — it falls back on a darkly familiar strategy.
Double dealing with the public