FOR all of the hoo-ha surrounding the story is anyone really surprised that Evelyn Glenholmes has been appointed to the Victims’ Forum?
The forum is actually built upon a fundamentally offensive moral equivocation: namely, that republican and loyalist terrorists (who will be represented) can be viewed in precisely the same way as those they targeted.
And in precisely the same way that those terrorists are attempting to turn the ‘reconciliation’ process into a vehicle for rewriting history to justify their violence, so, too, they will seek to use the forum to portray themselves as ‘victims’ rather than victim-makers.
Mike Nesbitt makes a fair point when he suggests that there will be “innocent victims who will be put off by her presence”; although, unlike him, I’m not open to persuasion on the matter.
A Victims’ Forum which contains terrorists (or their self-serving apologists) has already conceded the principle that a terrorist can be viewed as a victim: and in conceding that principle it has, in my eyes at least, devalued itself to the point of obscenity.
To be honest, I would rather just draw a line under the past and accept that there are some truths I will never know, than buy into a process which, at some point down the line, allows terrorists to portray themselves as more sinned against than sinning.
I read a piece last week in which an IRA member tried to argue that the ‘armed struggle’ was about bringing to an end unionist misrule and the Orange state. What a load of sanctimonious, fork-tongued cobblers! The Stormont parliament was removed in March 1972 and the governance of Northern Ireland passed to Westminster; yet the IRA kept on killing and kept on terrorising for decades after unionists had ceased to govern the country.
They waged war against the pro-Union majority, against democracy and, in many cases, against the very community they claimed to represent. So, go on, tell me – by what contortion of logic can the IRA members who waged that terror campaign ever be viewed as victims?
There will be those who argue that it doesn’t make sense for pro-Agreement unionists – like me – to accept Sinn Fein in government and then raise objections to the IRA’s participation in the Victims’ Forum and reconciliation engagement. But there is a very important difference between the two.
Sinn Fein has been given a substantial electoral mandate to sit in the Assembly and Executive and the 1998 referendum endorsed the power-sharing arrangements.
The reconciliation and victims stuff is different. Sinn Fein can only rewrite history and provide ‘cover’ for itself if the rest of us play along with their monstrous charade in assorted forums.
Now, if people want to meet republican or loyalist terrorists in a private capacity, then so be it. If they feel able to forgive them, then so be it. But don’t drag the rest of us into it and don’t demonise us as anti-peace or anti-progress if we say that we don’t want to take part.
Sinn Fein only got involved with politics because it knew the IRA wasn’t going to win. That’s why the IRA decommissioned and stood down. But they haven’t gone away and won’t go away.
The reconciliation process now being driven by Sinn Fein is just a propaganda exercise, a cynical ruse to convince a few people to come on board and then – and this is the most important role they have to play – persuade the rest of us that Sinn Fein is serious. Yes, Sinn Fein is as deadly serious as ever it was, but don’t kid yourself that it is serious about genuine reconciliation with unionists.
Let me offer a republican rewrite of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: First, the IRA came with bombs for our country; then they came with back channel negotiations for our country; then they came with the ballot box for our country; then they came for our country with offers of decommissioning and reconciliation; then they came with demands that their terrorist records be wiped clean; then they came with the demand that we recognise them as free of guilt; then they came with a demand that unionists apologise to them; then they came with a demand for public funding of their shrines and memorials; then they came for ‘that section’ of unionism which could be persuaded to support Irish unity; then unionism was gone.
There are a number of things which strike me as unachievable anytime soon. I don’t think there will be a definition of ‘victim’ which is acceptable to all sides. I don’t think there will be a definition of ‘reconciliation’ which is acceptable to all sides. I don’t think there will be a definition of ‘shared future’ which is acceptable to all sides. I don’t think there will be much agreement on what is meant by ‘dealing with the past’, let alone what is meant by ‘putting the past behind us and moving on’.
And let me tell you something else (although maybe I should whisper it): I suspect that the vast majority of the pro-Union community don’t really care all that much about the lack of progress on reconciliation and sharing – particularly if progress depends on rewriting history or any legislative effort to push us together.
I suspect, too, that most of those who are the victims, survivors and families affected by republican terrorism (although I accept there are exceptions) would prefer to suffer in silence and without truth or justice than to witness the day when the terrorists were defined as victims and washed free of guilt and moral responsibility.
We need to face the fact that we are in the same place we were in 1998: conflict stalemate rather than conflict resolution.
I’m not even sure we can move beyond that stalemate, particularly in the continuing absence of post-conflict parties with post-conflict agendas.
But I am pretty sure that we will end up doing much more damage than good if we fall into the trap of believing that loyalist and republican terrorists should be allowed to set the agenda when it comes to reconciliation and sharing.
I don’t doubt the personal integrity or motives of those within the pro-Union community who have accepted that some republican and loyalist terrorist groups are sincere and honest about reconciliation and progress.
If they want to build up some sort of relationship with them that must be their choice. But that’s all it is – THEIR choice. They speak for themselves, though, and only for themselves.
If they want to represent a wider audience then perhaps they should create their own post-conflict party and test the electoral waters in 2015.