Memorandum submitted by Sir George Quigley
1. Dr ATQ Stewart has aptly described in
The Shape of Irish History (2001) the extent to which we
are conditioned by history:
". . . It has made us what we are, and is
in our bloodstream, in the language we speak, the culture we proclaim,
the homes, streets and cities we live in. The call of the past
to us is insistent; we cannot ignore it. It presses irredentist
claims upon us, impatient for us to pass under its sway".
In The Narrow Ground (1977) Dr Stewart has written
about how `beneath the maze of streets the subterranean fire eternally
smouldered, because the course of Irish history never created
the circumstances in which it could die out'. The challenge for
today is to create those circumstances.
2. I am impressed by the extent to which
the role of historians in helping put together divided societies
is being increasingly emphasized. The Committee will no doubt
be aware of an interesting series of articles in various issues
of History Today from November 2003 onwards on this topic
in a variety of contexts, including Northern Ireland.
3. It is not difficult to see why this should
be so, since it is not only history, but competing versions of
history, which press their claims upon us. It has been well said
that prejudice, hatred and fear in divided societies are heavily
based on attitudes to history, which is often no more than semi-mythological
interpretations of the past.
4. In my Report (2002) reviewing the Parades
Commission and the legislation under which it was set up (chapter
7), I suggested that "both traditions need to try harder
to see all the historical actors as players caught up in the complicated
choreography of tragic conflict, which converted difference into
the disastrous division which still persists. A history which
knows only black and white must sharpen present antagonisms, making
it seem as if (in TK Hoppen's words) time itself has lost the
power to separate the centuries. It is our own choice as a society
whether we escape from the enslavement of history. The most effective
form of revolt may be a joint attempt by both traditions to take
ownership of our entire history". In chapter 25 of the Report
I envisaged a pilot history programme, attractively packaged and
widely available, to encourage the exploration of what this might
5. I attach (Annex A)
the History Today article (by Professor Richard English)
to which I allude in para 2 above. In it he describes four main
areas of contribution open to historians in our coming to terms
with our traumatic past. Particularly important are:
Challenging simplistic or self-servingly
amnesiac accounts of the past which support a self-legitimating
process on all sides.
Dispelling some of the more unhelpfully
outrageous readings of the past.
Eroding the notion that one's own
sectional and contemporary view of the past is the only truly
Demonstrating the contingency rather
than the inevitability of Ulster history so that current and future
political responses can be made with an awareness of the importance
and the range of the choices in which we can all participate.
6. Remembering the past poses particular
difficulty in a deeply divided society. The suggestion by former
Belfast Lord Mayor Alex Maskey of a public debate about the use
of commemorations has made little headway. Even events to commemorate
victims of the Troubles can (as current examples show) fail to
command universal support.
7. I attach (annex B)
a perceptive article published a few weeks ago in The Guardian
which discusses an interesting concept of remembering. Its basic
thesis is that remembering should have more to do with action
than with recollection, just as Christians are urged to "do
. . . In remembrance". "The test", the article
suggests, is "not how effectively we can look back and recall
but how seriously we can `remember' and ensure that tomorrow is
a different day".
8. Applying this concept to our own situation
would mean (in words used in chapter 9 of my Parades Report) having
(and of course delivering) a vision of an "inclusive, open,
tolerant, compassionate society whose members have the self-confidence
to embrace diversity and thrive on difference".
9. I attach (Annex C) an extract from remarks
I made at a recent Conference which sought to elaborate this a
little further. Inter alia, it makes the point that all
who accept the responsibilities of good citizenship have a part
to play in shaping the values which prevent our ever repeating
our tragic past. That clearly includes the victims of the Troubles
but it also includes those who have served sentence for their
activities during the Troubles and now wish to be integrated into
the normal life of our society and make their contribution to
building a better future.
10. Discussions of Reconciliation are often
confined to how one enables the victims of the troubled years
to achieve closure. The Chilean experience described in the May
2004 issue of History Today (pp 27-29) illustrates the
difficulties. The South African experience has proved seductive
in some quarters but, before contemplating its adoption, it would
be prudent to remember that arrangements arising out of the circumstances
of one conflict are not necessarily apt for another, nor can they
necessarily be made apt by tweaking or selective borrowing. A
senior member of the ANC expressed to me very clearly the view
that the Commission in South Africa worked because it was part
of the original peace settlement. It is at least arguable that,
coming so late in the day in Northern Ireland, the creation of
such machinery could well be simply another cause of controversy
and division unless it was supported strongly by all the main
political parties and by the key organisations who played a part
in the Troubles, whether as members of paramilitary organisations
or of the security forces.
11. Even on this basis, the initiative could
raise unrealistic expectations, resulting in bitterness and recrimination
if these were not fulfilled. Given the lapse of time, it seems
unlikely that the "truth" could be established in more
than a minority of cases unless there was overwhelming co-operation
from those involved. It seems likely that a significant proportion
in these cases would wish "justice" to be done as well
as truth to be told and that many of them would feel betrayed
by the whole process if this did not (as it presumably would not,
by reason of the Good Friday Agreement) result in prison sentences
being served. The process might result in closure for some but
Commission hearings rehearsing repeatedly over a probably prolonged
period the traumatic and harrowing events of the Troubles could
well prove highly destabilising in the present very fraught transition
12. It can be argued that this is a necessary
price which has to be paid for an ultimately stable future. But
the experience of other countries that have taken a different
view should be examined in some detail. I think particularly of
Spain, where, post-Franco, the parties agreed what was virtually
a pact of forgetfulness in regard to the preceding 40 years of
civil war and dictatorship, whilst Spain got on (successfully)
with building a very different future. It is only now, when the
wounds are less raw, that Spain (with historians playing a major
role) is addressing that pastbut on the basis (the Basque
issue aside) of a largely united nation. The Central and Eastern
European countries that were until recently part of the Soviet
bloc would also bear examination. The transition here has been
remarkably smooth, with these countries steadily focusing forward
to a new future in the European Union.
13. In Erna Paris' Long Shadows: Truth,
Lies and History (2000) there is a fascinating account of
how what had actually happened in France 1940-44 underwent an
opportune transformation in order to create the myth which formed
the conceptual underpinnings of the post-war republic. As she
puts it: "After an initial flourish of rough justice, during
which the most visible pro-Nazi collaborators were summarily despatched,
the rest of the population [many of them considered necessary
to the success of post-war society] was more than pleased to accept
the designation of resistant in the hope that thousands of other
equivocal acts would never see the light of day".
It was half a century later, when the nation
had become stable and prosperous, that people who had fought,
as Erna Paris puts it, "to chronicle their personal and collective
experience in the face of an official history that [had] been
falsified" had their day in court.
14. It would also be useful to find out
(if it has not already been done) what the reactions of victims
have been to initiatives already taken which have publicly recorded
their stories eg Lost lives (1999) by David McKittrick
et al and the BBC programme a few years ago which enabled
victims over a period of weeks to broadcast their individual (and
very moving) stories. In the latter case, for example, how far
was the mere telling of the story conducive to closure or what
more did they feel was needed?
15. It would also be important to assess
the significance of a contribution by the sociologist Dr Chris
Gilligan to a recent research seminar at the University of Strathclyde.
He is reported to have said:
"Trauma counselling encourages people to
interpret their unease in terms of their own individual difficulty
in dealing with experiences they suffered during the Troubles.
Often, however, the source of their unhappiness or distress lies
in the politics of the peace process".
To the extent that this observation has validity,
(and it would be useful to have the full text), it would suggest
that it could be as important to reconcile victims to the present
as to enable them to explore the past.
16. It seems to me important that the Committee's
inquiry should frame the reconciliation issue in terms of the
society as a whole and not just of the individuals impacted most
directly by the Troubles. That entails (as I argued in chapter
9 of the Parades Report) moving rapidly from acceptance of separation
towards the objective of sharing and of inclusivitya point
I developed further in my remarks at Annex C.
Otherwise ours will be a society which continues to be characterised
by overt or latent hostility. That also lends force to the point
made earlier that reconciliation may best be achieved by ensuring
that all, whatever their experience or their view of the past,
are encouraged to share in the creation of a different future,
to which much of the past is best regarded as a poor prologue.
17. In line with the intentions of the Committee
itself, I have eschewed in these hasty notes any attempt at prescription.
The issues are too complex, and the evidence from elsewhere too
ambiguous and its relevance to our own situation too problematical,
for that. But I do lean to the view that, since the past will
not go away, the better we understand it, the less its ability
to get its second wind and overtake our future efforts. And I
tend to believe that striving might and main for a better future
can exorcise many of the ghosts of a past which, whatever we may
do, can never be undone.
13 December 2004
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