Memorandum submitted by Dr Patricia Lundy
(University of Ulster, Jordanstown) and Dr Mark McGovern (Edge
Hill College of HE, Ormskirk)
COMMUNITY "TRUTH-TELLING" AND CONFLICT
A submission based on a Report prepared for
the Community Relations Council (NI) (2004) and a Survey of Attitudes
towards Truth and Justice issues to be conducted as part of the
Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey (NILT) 2005.
This submission is based on ongoing research
conducted over the last six years by the authors on community
approaches to truth-telling as part of post-conflict transition
in Northern Ireland. Internationally truth and reconciliation
processes have become central to dealing with the legacies of
the past in violently divided societies. However, there has been
little or no work carried out to assess the impact and outcomes
of such processes. It is within this context that the research
findings presented here, based upon an assessment of the impact,
value and benefits of community-based truth-telling, represent
an internationally unique contribution to the debate on post-conflict
mechanisms for dealing with the past. In addition, the authors
are currently undertaking a Northern Ireland-wide survey of attitudes
towards truth commissions. This is the first such survey carried
out anywhere in the world prior to the setting up of such a process.
The findings are also based on research conducted on international
experiences of truth-telling and post-conflict transition in a
number of countries including; Guatemala, Chile, South Africa
and Sri Lanka.
There have therefore been two key research initiatives:
The authors conducted research assessing
the values, impact and benefits of community-based truth-telling
for conflict resolution between 2003-04 on behalf of the Community
Relations Council (NI). This research focused on a case study
of Ardoyne Commemoration Project (ACP) a community-based truth-telling
initiative conducted between 1998-2002. The authors worked with
the ACP in the collation and publication of the testimonies of
the relatives and friends of the 99 people from Ardoyne, North
Belfast, killed by the various parties to the conflict between
1969-98 (Ardoyne Commemoration Project (2002) Ardoyne: The Untold
Truth, Belfast, Beyond the Pale Publications). Over 300 interviews
were carried out for the work of the ACP. The assessment research
involved an examination of the views of a number of key respondent
groups on what contribution community-based "truth-telling"
might play in post-conflict transition. These groups included
those who participated in the project, the wider Ardoyne community
and representatives of relevant victims, human rights and community
organisations within both the mainly nationalist and mainly unionist
communities. Approximately 50 in-depth interviews were carried
out for this research. This work forms the main source for the
findings presented in this submission. A full report is due to
be published in January 2005 (Lundy, P and McGovern, M (2005)
Community, "Truth-telling" and Conflict Resolution,
Community Relations Council, Belfast).
The authors are also responsible
for a module in the upcoming Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey
(NILT, 2005) which will explore attitudes towards a possible Truth
Commission for Northern Ireland. The NILT is carried out under
the auspices of the Northern Ireland Social and Political Archive
(ARK) and is the most important Northern Ireland-wide social attitude
survey carried out annually. Internationally, this will be the
first ever survey conducted on a national basis on attitudes to
a truth commission as part of a consultation process prior to
the instigation of a mechanism for dealing with the past.
The findings outlined below derive mainly from
the research carried out to assess the values, benefits and outcomes
of community-based "truth-telling" initiatives as part
of a strategy of post-conflict transition for Northern Ireland.
This work involved interviewing members of the project (4), relatives
who provided their testimonies (30), representatives of the wider
Ardoyne community (6) and spokespersons of both mainly nationalist
(6) and mainly unionist (6) victims and community organisations.
The representatives of mainly unionist groups generally came from
communities bordering the interfaces with Ardoyne. The areas identified
below represent the main points of concern identified in the research.
Acknowledgement and Recognition
Recognition was seen by those who
gave testimony to the ACP as its most important outcome.
Key themes included: space for individual
story, recording and placing in the public realm previously excluded
voices, confronting a previous lack of recognition.
Recognition was linked to acknowledgement,
accountability and the equality of victimhood.
The Restoration of dignity through
recognition was seen as particularly important for two groups
of relatives: victims of state violence and the families of alleged
A limitation of storytelling as a
form of recognition was also identified in relation to the lack
of accountability such a process could afford, particularly in
terms of the delivery of justice for the relatives of victims
of state violence.
Therapeutic or Non-therapeutic Nature of the Process
There were contradictory responses
as to whether the process carried out by the ACP was therapeutic
Giving testimony was clearly an emotional
experience but most respondents argued that, on balance, they
found the chance to "speak out" at least necessary and,
at best, therapeutic.
Therapeutic value derived from a
number of things: that someone was willing to listen to their
individual experience in an interview, that those experiences
then appeared in print under their control, and that the public
nature of the launch of the book represented a public "coming
together" of the community.
Some argued that "healing"
and "closure" could not be divorced from questions of
"justice" and "accountability".
A minority of respondents (more prevalent
amongst mainly unionist interviewees) were critical of the therapeutic
value of "truth-telling". A number suggested that "healing"
was a lifelong process. Others, more critical still, argued that
it was better to leave people to rely on their already established
Ethical issues were raised concerning
the potential of "truth-telling" leading to second order
There was virtually universal agreement
that any truth-telling process, community-based or otherwise,
had to be as inclusive as possible.
Mainly nationalist respondents stressed
two elements to inclusivity; as a means to tackle a prevailing
society-wide "hierarchy of victimhood", that denied
equality to victims of state violence in particular; the inclusion
of families of victims killed as alleged informers. Most respondents
within supported both these views on the basis of the principle
For mainly unionist respondents inclusiveness
was also seen as key though other issues were also raised. These
included; sense of anger that some experiences were seen as having
not been included in the work of the ACP (ie of Ardoyne unionists),
the greater problems that exist around the issue of inclusivity
within the unionist community because of (what virtually all of
them saw as a problematic) distinction made between "innocent"
and "non-innocent" victims.
Participation, Ownership and Control
Community participation was seen
as the single most important aspect of the work of the ACP. Virtually
all respondents argued that any "truth-telling" process
needed to provide a strong community-based component in order
to provide people with a sense of ownership and control.
People providing testimony to the
ACP were given back their edited transcripts prior to publication
so they could make any changes they wished. This was seen as extremely
important in giving people a sense of agency, control and a means
to contest the idea of relatives as "passive" and/or
A strong community base also meant
that those carrying out the work of the project were people known
to, and generally trusted by, participants. Most Ardoyne respondents
suggested that talking to an "insider" allowed them
to speak in ways they could not have done if the work was carried
out by someone from the "outside".
A number of potential issues surrounding
the use of "insider" researchers were also noted by
a minority including, an unwillingness to address certain issues
and giving partial or guarded accounts, the potential political
orientation of the project. For most, however, these drawbacks
were outweighed the advantages of being able to know and trust
those to whom they spoke.
Any "truth-telling" mechanism
should therefore consider ways in which community frameworks and
perspectives could be interwoven into its working methods and
structures to provide a sense of inclusiveness, equality, real
participation and ownership.
Truth and Justice
There were diverse views on what
constituted "justice" in "truth-telling".
Some saw the chance to "tell their story" through the
project as sufficient, others saw truth-telling as complimentary
to, rather than replacing, judicial mechanisms.
Community-based truth-telling processes
were seen as a useful means of meeting some of the ends of transitional
justice as socially and psychologically "safe" places
to "bear witness".
The limitations of such processes
are in their inability to uncover certain unknown information
from outside agencies, to obtain official recognition, recompense
and to pursue accountability.
Mainly Unionist respondents tended
to be far more suspicious of the whole debate around "truth
and justice". The research suggested that the debate and
initiatives on "truth-telling" can some times be seen
as a solely nationalist agenda.
Views on the significance of the
work of the ACP for inter-community relations differed widely.
Within Ardoyne and the wider nationalist community the issue of
community relations was either not a central priority or an approach
to the issues under discussion that they problematised as driven
by a "two traditions" perspective. Most. However, felt
that the model employed by the ACP was something that other communities
might usefully follow and that this could make a very positive
contribution to inter-community dialogue.
Unionist respondents were more divided
in their views. Some saw the work of the project as offering real
potential for enhancing cross-community relations, others that
that it might have a potentially damaging impact on conflict resolution
strategies because more likely to create, rather than diminish
tensions and bi-polar social and political perspectives.
Most participants saw the work of
the ACP as having a very positive impact on intra-community tensions.
This was particularly linked to the fact that Ardoyne is not a
homogenous community and in dealing with intra-community tensions
surrounding, for example, the deaths of alleged informers.
The project was credited with providing
mechanisms and creating the time and space to help resolve a number
of such issues related to intra-community violence and in dealing
with certain "taboo" issues.
It was also suggested that the ACP
stimulated individual self-reflection and a shifting of long held
viewpoints, opened a space for community dialogue and debate that
has borne longer-term positive results.
It was felt that all combatants to
the conflict were accountable and that there was therefore a need
to create a new confidence and willingness to "speak out"
about difficult issues.
Single Identity Work
Reflecting the social make-up of
the area the ACP was mainly a single identity project, although
victims from unionist backgrounds were also included. The research
showed that there were strong reasons to support single identity
Many respondents were suspicious
of a "two traditions" approach to inter-community "truth-telling",
particularly because this excluded the active role of the British
state in the conflict.
The problem of self censorship and
providing only partial accounts were also identified with the
conduct of cross-community "truth-telling" work.
Single identity work also provides
a focus on the much neglected issue of intra-community tensions
and divisions resulting from conflict.
Problems with single identity work
include; limiting contact with other communities, internal dialogue
can lead to a re-assertion of views rather than a diminution of
division (although the evidence suggests that recognition is more
likely to lead to a spirit of generosity)
There may be a need to devise a "truth-telling"
process that enshrines the strengths and benefits of community-orientated
single identity work but which also allows for this to be combined
with parallel processes taking place elsewhere. Real, honest,
meaningful (if difficult) dialogue may be better achieved in this
Managing the expectations of relatives
and victims is key to the success of "truth-telling"
Given the sensitivity, emotive and
highly personal nature of the work, raising expectations that
cannot, in the end, be met are likely to have deeply felt and
far-reaching repercussions. Much of whatever satisfaction relatives
who provided testimony to the ACP derived from the work was because
they felt the project did what it said it would, no more and no
Recognition, Acknowledgement and Accountability
We recommend the setting up of an
initiative that facilitates community based "truth-telling"
processes. To this end we would suggest the publication of a "user
friendly" step-by-step guide booklet for communities interested
in initiating such a process. There are communities currently
involved in similar type work but lack the necessary skills, information
and resources to undertake an ACP type process.
We would stress that such work not
be seen as a substitute for other, broader initiatives aimed at
delivering acknowledgement, accountability, truth and justice.
Parallel processes should also therefore be available for all
those aggrieved who wish to pursue such avenues of redress.
We further recommend that in any
"truth-telling" process (community or particularly if
state-led) all organisations and institutions (British and Irish
states, republican and loyalists) should publicly acknowledge
and take responsibility for their role in the conflict.
We recommend that the principles
of inclusivity and equality of victimhood should underpin all
"truth-telling" initiatives (whether community or state-led).
Participation and Local Ownership
The principles of community participation
and local ownership and control should underpin the initiation,
design and delivery of "truth-telling" processes. Any
"truth-telling" process (community or otherwise) should
genuinely attempt to establish ways in which community frameworks
and perspectives could be interwoven into its working methods
and structures so that a real sense of participation, ownership
and a victim centred approach can be achieved.
Inter and Intra Community Tensions and Single
There is a need to recognise that
intra as well as inter community tensions and divisions deriving
from the conflict need to be addressed as part of conflict resolution
and peace building. It follows that consideration should be given
to promotion of "single identity" work as a necessary
and viable approach to "truth-telling". The experience
of those involved in the ACP would seem to suggest that achieving
recognition in this way could allow for a greater spirit of generosity
to flourish. This may, in other words, be seen as a stage in a
wider and longer term process rather than solely an end in itself.
We further recommend a process that
enshrines the strengths and benefits of community-orientated single
identity work but which also allow for this to be combined with
parallel processes. These would allow for the sharing of information,
and experiences, between specific projects and communities.
Given the significant reservations
expressed by unionist respondents towards "truth-telling"
initiatives we would recommend that further research on such attitudes
be carried out. This should be designed to enable a more fully
inclusive public debate on such issues.
An additional recommendation is that
a "two traditions" approach should not be advocated
as a viable model for "truth-telling" (whether community
or state-led). As stated above, all organisations and institutions
should publicly acknowledge and take responsibility for their
role in the conflict.
We recommend that any community seeking
to undertake such a process ensure appropriate mechanisms are
in place before embarking on the project. This should be designed
to safeguard interviewees/ participants and staff/volunteers from
any negative/ traumatic or detrimental effects flowing from engagement
in the project. It is important that support networks and services
also have a strong community based focus.
Transparency and openness should
be a feature of "truth-telling" processes in order to
avoid raising expectations and causing further hurt to victims.
Participants should be told what to expect from the process at
the outset and be kept informed of developments as far as possible
throughout the process.