Memorandum submitted by the University
of Ulster; INCORE (International Conflict Research)
INCORE welcomes the opportunity to make comments
on the above inquiry. We wish to make five initial points. First,
this submission is not an academic, definitive INCORE position
paper. Rather, it is a series of suggestions as to possible responses
to the inquiry. Further, it acknowledges a range of diverse possibilities,
some of which INCORE staff might agree with, some of which are
contentious, and all of which are worthy of open debate.
Second, we note the politically unrepresentative
nature of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. There is the
inclusion of three Committee Members from Unionist parties and
one from the SDLP. Although entitled to membership of a House
of Commons Committee, Sinn Féin representatives are absent.
We also note with dismay the entirely male nature of this Committee.
Many people in Northern Ireland would view the membership of this
Committee as being highly unrepresentative (in terms of gender
and political/religious/cultural affiliation). Whatever decisions
the Committee makes after reviewing the submissions to this inquiry,
a Northern Ireland subcommittee should be formed that is both
perceived and acknowledged as being inclusive and representative
of diverse groups.
Third, there needs to be a careful balance between
illuminating "ways which have been used to help resolve similar
conflicts elsewhere" (South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Peru,
Rwanda, Sierra Leone, East Timor, the Balkans), and the need to
adapt to the specificity of history, culture and place. Those
who should decide on what can be usefully adapted from elsewhere
are those who have been most affected by "pain, grief and
anger". That is, while some might argue that to some extent
all who lived in Northern Ireland during "The Troubles"
are victims, clearly some more than others have been conspicuously
affected in deep ways. It is this group of victims, that is, those
who have lost close members of families, have been injured physically
and mentally or have suffered explicit sectarianism and discrimination
who should be represented on sub-committees and be the focus of
initiatives on "dealing with the past".
Fourth, there has been a lot of positive work
already done in Northern Ireland on these issues of dealing with
the past and reconciliation. A lot of this work is continuing.
Duplication of work is unnecessary, and can at times be disrespectful.
Perhaps the development of a comprehensive database and an accessible
booklet of works already done or in progress would be useful.
Further, the "Healing Through Remembering" project already
has set in motion many ideas and practices that are basic to this
enquiry. The project proposes 14 different forms of remembering
(www.healingthroughremembering.org) and provides a constructive
list of recommendations around issues related to this inquiry.
Perhaps these recommendations could be extended more broadly through
all parts of Ireland, where communities see and feel the need
to remember in order to reconcile differences and to move on.
Fifth, "dealing with the past" is
but one dimension of reconciliation, whichever conflict zones
are under discussion. Reconciliation involves multi-layered processes,
and an adequate response to reconciliation must deal with the
past, the present (including stagnation, reasons for obstructions,
ongoing sectarianism/racism/dogmatic closed-mindedness) and the
future. To this end, our submission makes suggestions on this
threefold basis: past, present and future stances.
Language matters. It is better to
talk about truths of the past then "the truth"to
recognise different voices and to acknowledge different interpretations
of the truth. Accordingly, rather than a Northern Ireland Truth
Commission, a series of community-based and cross-community fora
is preferable. There is need for local level public processes
in towns across Northern Ireland to participate in processes and
activities with local relevance. "Truth" is a complex
concept, its potency often is self-selective. Where there are
non-judgemental spaces to tell personal stories, truth may emerge
more clearly, certainly more comfortably than in forced trials
or formal, legalistic Commissions. However, storytelling is not
always sufficient. For paramilitary groups, police, politicians
and governments, the relationship between truth, justice and accountability
is more complex and needs to be explored further.
There are things people want to remember
and there are things people want to forget. Similarly, silence
is sometimes a legitimate personal choice and underlying motivations
for keeping silent should be respected. Again, this may be easier
to do on a personal basis than on a group basis. For example,
an ex-prisoner may be reluctant to talk about the specific details
of his bombings or shootings, but the truth about his paramilitary
group's responsibility for creating suffering needs to be known
The acknowledgement by the British
government of state complicity in contributing to suffering is
imperativesilence is delaying reconciliation. An international
body of respected statespersons, lawyers, political advisers,
could be formed to facilitate a British government acknowledgement
of its political culpability.
What is a reasonable apology and
what are the boundaries of forgiveness again are debatable issues.
However, an apology is a symbolic gesture (Pope Paul II apologised
for the hurt caused to the Jewish people during the Holocaust,
the Japanese Prime Minister apologised for the abuse of "comfort
women", yet the Australian Prime Minister John Howard refuses
to apologise to the Australian indigenous people for forced assimilation
of the "stolen generation"). Debate on the meanings
of apology and the significance of forgiveness can take place
in religious and secular contexts. Acts of symbolic apology, repentance
and remorse, and the acceptance of these acts through forgiveness
are part of dealing holistically with the pain of the past. While
churches play an important role in encouraging these acts, political
forgiveness is connected to practical reconciliation in civil
society. Others might see the fulfilment of justice, equality
and human rights to be a more positive manifestation of reconciliation,
rather than seeing the need for political forgiveness.
The provision for historical commemorations,
museums and historical sites is needed with the requirement that
these should not have sectarian connotations, or more truthfully,
that the sectarian history be acknowledged, with regret, perhaps
Reconciliation often is linked to
victims and hurts they have suffered. This is certainly the case
as expressed by the 1998 "The Agreement". Clarification,
discussion, debate, open forums are still needed as to the range
of understandings and possibilities as to what reconciliation
really can mean. Norman Porter argues in defence of "strong
reconciliation" which requires: "fair interactions between
members of opposing groups" that we "overcome our antagonistic
divisions by occupying common ground; and. . .the presence of
a society in which all citizens have a sense of belonging"
(The Elusive Quest: Reconciliation in Northern Ireland, 2003:
94-5). Strong reconciliation thus requires a move from "dealing
with the past" to changed practices in the present. Thus,
fair interactions require justice, equality and human rights;
the overcoming of divisions to appreciate common ground requires
combating sectarianism and acknowledging common shared civic desires
(like decent jobs, good standards of living, health and integrated
education); and civic belonging requires an inclusive sense of
identification as well as the implementation of The Agreement.
To this end, elected politicians
play an enormous role in hindering or facilitating "strong
reconciliation". To continue to have talks, agreements and
negotiations done by proxy or second-hand related messages with
none of the goodwill gestures of common courtesy like handshaking,
and to have a suspended Assembly works explicitly against any
development of a common sense of civic belonging.
Rectifying injustices is crucial
to reconciliation processes. Certainly, in transitional justice,
there is an element of restorative justice, reparations that include
compensations. The possibility of such compensation should not
delay legal hearings.
Reconciliation does not presuppose
resolving differences. Dissonance is part of democracy. There
are many differences that cannot be resolved in Northern Ireland.
Where there is mutual respect for others, difference need not
dissolve into conflict. The media and elected politicians play
a crucial role in public perceptions of ways to "manage"
difference. If expressions of exclusion, disrespect, distrust,
and closed-mindedness were called into critical questioning by
the media whenever politicians and public spokespersons are being
interviewed, citizens may well learn positive lessons of what
is or is not acceptable if Northern Ireland is to move on from
its legacy of bitterness and bigotry. Affirming, even embracing
difference is crucial to actual reconciliation.
The chief point of dealing with the
past and present in Northern Ireland is to envisage a future where
diverse groups of people who live on the island of Ireland can
thrive. All ways to cultivate a respect for diversity while simultaneously
fostering common ideals and mutual senses of belonging should
Reconciliation requires work from all sectors
of the communityacademics, churches, lawyers, policy-makers,
NGOs, community-groups, victim groups and all concerned citizens.
We should learn what has worked elsewhere and why it helped, and
we should learn what has not been successful and why not, but
be prepared for contextual adaptation of reconciliation in terms
of the mechanisms, strategies, structures and processes given
the historical, political peculiarities in Northern Ireland.