Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mr Ian McBride

  I am very interested in your Reconciliation inquiry, however, both as a historian and as a Northern Irishman.

  I have some knowledge of other reconciliation processes, having presented a comparative paper on the subject in South Africa last September, and participated in the first meeting of Salzburg Seminar's Northern Ireland project in October. The range of options is set out in the "Healing through Remembering" report, which I greatly admire. Of these, the notion of some kind of TRC is clearly the most divisive. I do not think it could work for obvious reasons: the structures created by the Belfast Agreement actually entrench the division between hostile Unionist and Nationalist blocs; they offer a way of managing a conflict, not transcending it, and in this they accurately reflect the realities of Northern Ireland.

  More generally, I think there are dangers in supposing that other models can be applied to Northern Ireland. The most promising idea in "Healing through Remembering" is actually a new one: the "storytelling" or "testimony" proposal. This is really a massive oral history project, to be connected to a Troubles museum. It has some odd similarities, which I would be happy to outline, with the Irish Folklore Commission of the 1930s. Its merit, I think, is that it bypasses the party-political wrangling that accompanies every commission (on parades, Bloody Sunday, etc) by focusing on the experiences of ordinary people. And surely one of the most striking things about the period after 1969 is the way in which very ordinary people were forced to cope with a set of very extraordinary problems. The end result will not be a consensual version of what happened in the last 30 years, but it may help us to understand that the Troubles consisted of several different conflicts rolled into one, and that each of us therefore played more than one role within it. (To take the hardest case, we may come to understand that some paramilitaries were both terrorists and freedom fighters.)

  There is much more to be said, and I would be happy to help in any way. For the record, I have published two books, The Siege of Derry in Ulster Protestant Mythology (1997) and History and Memory in Modern Ireland (2001) dealing the presentation of the past in commemorations, collective memory and academic historical scholarship.

3 December 2004

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