Contrary to much media comment and the predictable pronouncements of leading churchmen unionists should reject the Haass report.
The report’s treatment of the ‘past’ deploys language as a subtle tool for factual and moral distortion. The ‘past’ in Northern Ireland is presented as a ‘conflict’ between ‘state actors’ and ‘paramilitaries’ in which many people were ‘killed’ or injured.
‘Conflict’ is a morally neutral term which at least tacitly entails some sort of moral equivalence between the parties to the conflict – the ‘state actors’ and the ‘paramilitaries’.
The term ‘paramilitary’ avoids the strong morally pejorative connotation of the word ‘terrorist’ which is not used in the report.
Instead, the use of the word ‘terrorist’ is attributed in the report to those who ‘see the protagonists in stark black and white’ with the import that this is some sort of deficient understanding.
The expression ‘state actors’ does not carry the connotation of legitimacy with respect to the use of force that attaches to expressions such as ‘security forces’ or ‘forces of law and order’ and the somewhat trivial word ‘actor’ obscures the heroism and self-sacrifice with which the RUC fought the terrorists to the point of defeat by the early 1990s.
People were not simply ‘killed’ – most were murdered. ‘Murder’ is a legally and morally evaluative term so it is never employed in the report except in one reference to ‘unsolved murders’.
Factual and moral distortion is required to accommodate the moral neutrality and moral equivalence that mark the report.
Why this commitment to moral equivalence? The commitment to moral equivalence is required to accommodate the use of the word ‘victim’ in the report.
The perspective of the report is that a victim is anyone killed or injured in the Troubles but with no distinction between innocence and culpability – in short, there is at the core of the report a linguistic and indeed moral abuse of the word ‘victim’.
These considerations mean that despite the emphasis in the report on recovering ‘truth’ the report itself is a blueprint for burying truth about the past.
The report recommends that the examination of individual events (presumably such as ‘Bloody Friday’) should be set within the context of the ‘policies and goals of those who committed violence’.
This is not a recipe for truth recovery but for a self-justificatory account of the past on the part of the terrorists.
This points to a fundamental defect of the report – truth is divorced from the pursuit of justice which in fact does not figure in the report.
The importance of justice was expressed in language of moving eloquence by the mother of the young soldier Patrick Azimkar murdered at Massereene Army barracks: ‘Healing follows from justice and if justice is not done and seen to be done it leaves the victims to solely bear the penalty of the crime.’
That is a truth of which the authors of the Haass report have no grasp.
Patrick Roche is a former MLA for both the UK Unionist Party and NI Unionist Party