SO, how well has Sinn Fein weathered the storm inevitably provoked by the anniversary of Bloody Friday, Lena Ferguson’s brilliant BBC documentary, and the highly charged Nolan Show that followed?
And what are the lasting implications for the peace process and can we ever bring solace to the tens of thousands of victims of the Troubles, who still live with their pain no matter how much so many here want to “move on”?
Well, let’s start with Sinn Fein. In July 1972 Seamus Twomey led the IRA in Belfast. The atrocity was carried out a few days after the bilateral ceasefire broke down on the streets of Lenadoon and the Springhill massacre of the same night. It is safe to assume that the operation was ordered by Twomey and sanctioned by Seán Mac Stíofáin, then IRA chief of staff.
In Beyond the Grave, Brendan Hughes admits responsibility for the logistics of Bloody Friday. It does not matter whether or not the IRA intended to kill and maim, there can be no excuse for an action which in any conflict would be categorised as a war crime.
All three are dead. But that leaves Gerry Adams, senior enough at the time to have been a member of the IRA delegation that took part in abortive peace talks, and who, allegedly, replaced Twomey as the leader of the Belfast brigade later that year.
The difficulty, of course is, that Adams steadfastly denies ever having been a member of the IRA and so therefore is not in a position to “clarify” his role in that organisation, his knowledge of the atrocity and subsequent incidents, and to share his reflections today in an honest and open fashion. The problem for him is that some other republicans appear to have different memories and are beginning to articulate them. That is why there is a legal battle going on about what Dolours Price might have said to the Boston College with PSNI demanding a transcript of an interview which was conducted on the basis it would be published posthumously.
That brings us to the victims. The problem with being a victim, whether you are bereaved or injured is that the pain does not stop when the papers stop writing about you. It is there for life. To paraphrase Adams, an injury does not go away, you know. It’s something you have to live with and the same goes for the loss of loved ones. They cannot come back. As an ex-Troubles journalist I feel a great sense of remorse when I meet people who have suffered in the conflict because we covered the story for a day or two, and moved on, but they are left for the rest of their days to cope with what happened.
Professor Mike Tomlinson of Queen’s University is the sharpest academic working in this field. He spoke at a conference I organised a few months ago, and has further work published today about the deep impacts that the conflict has had on those most affected – mainly from working class communities of both traditions.
The lasting legacy of those brought up in conflict areas during the worst of the Troubles is today manifested by high levels of trauma – mental ill health, problems with alcohol abuse and prescription drugs, and most alarming of all concerning levels of suicide and self harm.
Victims are all different, some want to forget and rebuild, others want justice; some extraordinary people have used their pain to help others recover, all want closure.
It is all very well for those not touched by the Troubles to say they have heard enough and want to “move on”. We need to respectfully remind them that there are very many people here for whom those dark days are still part of their lives. You cannot rebuild shattered legs and you can’t bring back people from their graves.
But if we are to build a better society we need to find a way of reconciling ourselves to the past and that is not about police investigations, or political whataboutery, because where can that possibly end? After all it wasn’t just the paramilitaries who did really bad things.
This is a difficult, painful issue for all who have suffered, no matter what their background. There are no easy solutions, in the past there have been various amnesties issued to security force personnel and to paramilitaries, and the status quo effectively creates a hierarchy of victims.
We need to debate and resolve this if we are ever to properly “move on”.