Our failure to deal fairly with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’ is poisoning political life and it could start to damage the future as well as the present.
In order to move on successfully, we need to have an honest debate about why conflict occurred and who was to blame. At the moment, we’re focussing too much attention on deaths caused by soldiers and policemen, most of whom were struggling valiantly to prevent outright civil war.
I feel it important to give a personal perspective. I’m not a victim, but only because the people who tried to kill my father at least five times were not successful.
He was a police officer and those occasions when he was nearly murdered do not include incidents like being pelted with rocks and engulfed by flames caused by a petrol bomb, which had potentially fatal consequences too.
His story is replicated for most police officers who served during those years and a great many soldiers too.
The irony is that the definition of collusion being used now is so sweeping that many servicemen and women could be accused of colluding in their own deaths.
Often they knew who was intent on murdering them, but they lacked evidence to imprison those people. 312 police officers died and 700 soldiers. The police were involved in 50 deaths and the army 309, only some of which are regarded as controversial.
Republican groups killed some 2,148 people and loyalists 1071, all of which were crimes. Only 30-40 of these deaths killed opposing paramilitaries, so the idea that they were defending their communities is an outright lie.
The focus on state killings is an attempt to twist our understanding of the Troubles into a narrative that ignores the facts.
It ties up limited resources in a way that ensures they’re not available to hold the main perpetrators to account. Another aim is to alienate people from the state and each other.
There is plenty of blame to go round for the period we too simplistically call the Troubles but who do I blame for the conflict that could have led to my Father’s death?
The English don’t deserve much of the opprobrium heaped on them. For the most part, they just wanted us to live in peace.
I do think the hard right unionism of people like the Reverend Ian Paisley contributed to the environment emerging where violence occurred and was fuelled once it started.
Violent republicanism was given credibility by the Easter Rising. Whatever debates we have about its merits then, it was certainly not going to unite the two parts of Ireland constitutionally.
Like a cancer, it has eaten away at relationships and still threatens to emerge again. It thrives on hatred and nurturing grievances that make people feel alienated.
Those two deeply flawed and hate-filled ideologies caused our conflict; playing us all off against each other. The strategies were driven by self-interest with too often appalling outcomes for the people, who the ideologues cared little for but who were fodder for their ambitions.
Recognising that creates a proper foundation for us to build our relationships on into the future.
Trevor Ringland, Holywood