A new cross-community group of academics frustrated at what they see as attempts to retrospectively legitimise terrorism during the Troubles have submitted a paper to Richard Haass.
Arkiv — which takes its name from the Danish word for archive in honour of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard — brings together Catholic and Protestant academics who argue that dealing with the past could be best dealt with by a panel of historians from both sides of the divide.
In its submission to Dr Haass, the group sharply criticised the timeframe in which he is operating, telling the diplomat: “The idea that dealing with the past is a task that can be agreed and dispatched within a given period is not simply an insult to the victims of violence, it is politically and historically naïve.”
It argued against proposals for an international truth commission, something pushed by Sinn Fein, pointing out that in South Africa, where such a model was tested, the state was responsible for the vast majority of deaths. By contrast, they highlighted that in Northern Ireland about 90 per cent of deaths were the responsibility of paramilitaries.
Arkiv said that proposals such as those from the Eames-Bradley group were “inherently problematic” and had “created instability in Northern Ireland”.
And the group argued: “There is a post-modernist flavour to many of the discussions where all narratives are treated as epistemologically equal, despite the obviously one-sided and partisan nature of many of them.”
Setting out its proposal for historians to formally examine the Troubles, the group conceded that historians are not free from “instinctive bias” – but argued that such problems could be largely overcome through academic rigor.
The group said: “This does not mean making historians into truth attorneys preparing a case to condemn; rather – along the lines of the sort of legal ‘opinion’ given by Supreme Court judges in the USA – the purpose is to clarify the bigger picture.
“We believe that a commission of historical clarification can work to circumscribe the past and fence-in historical narratives thereby helping to remove them from the political frontline.”
The group comprises University of Ulster academics, Professor Arthur Aughey, Professor Henry Patterson, Dr Máire Braniff and Dr Cillian McGrattan; as well as Dr Aaron Edwards from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst; Professor Thomas Hennessey of Christ Church Canterbury University; Dr Stephen Hopkins of the University of Leicester; and Professor Liam Kennedy of Queen’s University.
Yesterday, Dr Haass said that he believed that, based on the submissions made to him, the “vast majority” of people in Northern Ireland are willing for compromise.
See Morning View, page 14