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
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