Connall McDevitt on Truth and Reconciliation: Discuss…

Today, I had the chance  to read a piece by Connall McDevitt, SDLP MLA for South Belfast over on Eamonn Mallie’s site where he was discussing the notion of reconciliation among the main ‘warring tribes’ in the North and how the truth is also needed, in what he suggests are ‘are two sides of the same coin‘. This piece is the latest in a long series which Brian Rowan and Eamonn Mallie have been running with following on from Declan Kearney’s initial piece in An Phoblacht where he challenged Republicans to say sorry, not for the reason for their actions but for the human cost of all of their actions. This apology would be part of a larger reconciliation process involving all actors here in the North.

Very little of what Connall says is controversial and he ties in his experience of living in post-Franco era Spain and the ‘grand bargain’  the state’s main political stakeholders made with one another on an amnesty for previous Franco era actions so that instead of civil society in Spain tearing itself apart due to bitter recriminations from its (then) recent past it would instead concentrate on the future with a post Agreement North and the observation that society here is not reconciled with one another and the actions of our political representatives including the men of arms they may have supported, whether state forces or paramilitaries.

To be fair, whilst Connall’s piece was at times well reasoned and somewhat rambling in relation to his own personal history growing up in Andalusia and his early activism, I felt somewhat deflated by it in the main. Why? Well, I don’t know what Connall was trying to say. Is he trying to have a go at Declan Kearney’s initiative at kick starting reconciliation where we all have a talk and create a mechanism where we all get to hear our truth? Is he merely giving his opinion that we require truth and reconciliation if this place is to progress and become a ‘normal society’ (whatever that means)? If I were cynical, I could even ask was it petty political point scoring by noting in the main the violence of the IRA, for example the loss of Anne Travers’ sister, Mary, and her campaign against the appointment of Mary McArdle as a special adviser owing to her involvement in the murder, whilst not mentioning much in the way of state and loyalist paramilitary violence against nationalists in general. Some may level an accusation of ‘whataboutery’ against me or someone pointing this out, which is fair, however, I would note that I am merely highlighting that he focused on IRA violence and made passing references to other violent actors. Unfortunately, my rather cynical question will be something that many in the North will ask and Connall is big enough to answer for himself on that score.

From the outset I must declare, I am not a member of any political party and come election time my vote is up for grabs to any nationalist who I feel is in tune with what I want and is also, in my opinion, a good representative of their community. Moving on, Connall notes in his opening stanza that:

We are not all to blame for the troubles. That is the first message I want to send those like Sinn Fein Chairperson, Declan Kearney who are suggesting that we all, somehow, have to share responsibility for what happened.

I think Connall may actually be misreading what Declan Kearney has been saying, whether this is deliberate or not who knows, but talk of all of ‘us’ having some kind of responsibility for the troubles and needing to reconcile with one another is, I believe, rather stretching the intention of Kearney’s words. By ‘us’, I believe Kearney means society in general needs to reconcile itself with our collective past, each community as opposed to absolutely everyone in the North going outside and having a group hug.

He further goes on to note in the next stanza that:

Former IRA and Sinn Fein leaders seem to suggest that this is not so. That is a disingenuous approach which will do nothing to transform our island or heal the divisions of the past.

Unfortunately, the link brings us merely to Eamonn Mallie’s homepage rather than develop this point. However, I find this assertion of Connall’s slightly at odds with what has been said by Declan Kearney on numerous occasions in this series and also slightly disingenuous on his part. Whilst I do not know where these discussions will take us, especially in light of the fact that there is no general amnesty in effect as there was in Spain, nor are all parties taking part in the discussions, it has been noted that every topic is on the table in these discussions, so you would imagine there would be talk of how to discuss the truth behind each actors deeds whether it is the rationale or the operational aspects of an act. To be fair, who would be willing to have reconciliation without the truth? As Connall noted, they are two sides of the same coin after all.

The problem I have is that while I am somewhat skeptical of the whole reconciliation process, not because I think it is not a noble cause but due to the nature of the creation of the North by way of a sectarian headcount I believe that it (the North) is actually irreconcilable in its current guise, and I am also pretty certain that the issue of reconciliation will be heavily politicised by various parties (or perhaps stakeholders is a better word for parties?) into a blame game.

I sincerely hope that I am wrong on this and for what it is worth I wish the likes of Brian Rowan et al who are driving and/or facilitating these conversations all the very best of luck; they are acting as honest brokers and should be commended. My worry is that as there were no clear winners from the Troubles, an era Ian Paisley Jnr on Tuesday described as ‘the dirtiest war ever this side of Kosovo‘ (I thought it wasn’t a war?), it means that a victor is unable to press the terms of any peace (amongst civic society in the social sense) without agreement from all, something that is in short supply unless all are confronted without much of a choice.

I found particularly interesting UDA leader Jackie McDonald’s thoughts and misgivings on the reconciliation process in general:

There are a lot of skeletons in the cupboard. It’s about who are the guilty parties. It’s not just the IRA, or the UDA or the other paramilitary groups. There are a lot of skeletons in the cupboards. There are a lot of things that have been done wrong. And if everybody was to hold their hands up and admit it [the fear is] that the IRA would probably come out of it smelling like roses more than anybody else.

I find this proposition hard to believe in all fairness, Bloody Friday, Kingsmill and La Mon clearly are testament that there is some truth in what Ian Paisley Jnr said on Tuesday, but it does strike me that this initiative will be one without mainstream political unionism effectively joining in and one which many unionist commentators tetchily dismiss out of hand, thus meaning we will not have a mechanism to find out the truth come the end of all of this.



2 responses to “Connall McDevitt on Truth and Reconciliation: Discuss…

  1. Reconciliation is desirable but I fear can only really be at best a qualified success.
    First of all, the Agreement itself is the only thing that matters.
    And bringing people in from the cold……Reconciliation if you like would have been more possible in 1998-2003 if the leading parties UUP and SDLP had pushed it. It would have appeared to be a big gesture. But lets be frank in 1998 it was always envisaged that the UUP and SDLP would be the lead parties in a Grand Coalition.
    The dynamics change when DUP and SF got to be the big parties. That wasnt in the script.
    It perhaps rankles with some that they now feel they can drive the process.
    I observe two things. Intentionally or not……now that they are the second party in nationalism……the SDLP will feel sore that SF is in the driving seat on something where they were much more a player. I can understand that. Yes……an element of broadly unintended point scoring…….but just envy that this wasnt the script in 1998 AND there should be some blame that it was not all more vigourously pursued after 1998. In fairness UUP mostly to blame.
    In short Reconciliation was supposed to be in the gift of the “good” guys not the “bad” guys.
    The second thing I observe is not Sinn Féins good intent but rather their ability to really deliver.
    The same week of the West Belfast Féile I attended a funeral and was chatting to an old neighbour best desribed as an “ex-prisoner” (if you get my drift) and I brought up the subject of loyalist ex-prisoners and outreach.
    My old neighbour who is NOT a dissident but not exactly on board with Sinn Féin either turned all colours. He was never going to apologise to anyone for anything he had done. Because apologies are for people who have done wrong. He was f**king proud of what he had done. In his viw people like Declan Kearney had no right to apologise for him or dead comrades and (in his view) apology made all sdes equal.
    Im increasingly thinking that the ex-prisoners equate to the Old IRA in the 1940s 1950s right up to 1966 Easter Rising Commemoration. They are equally dismissive of Sinn Féin/Fianna Fáil (then) careerists and Dissident no-hopers (the 1940s/50s/60s diehards) ……I just dont think Declan Kearney can deliver them.
    And at the end of the day…….does it matter.
    I really think that what we have is as good as it gets.

    • I think you are right FJH, this is probably as good as it gets. As there is no real support for dissidents or a groundswell of support for them, I don’t think too many are really pushing for true reconciliation. 14 years ago, yes, great idea, lots of momentum, hands across the divide and all that, but now all we are interested in is the state of the economy.

      I am interested in the opinion of the former IRA man re SF career pols. I was talking to my mum about the Irish Presidency a while ago. Like yourself, she’s from West Belfast and she has a sister living in Co Clare from the Lower Falls too. My mum said she would have voted for Senator Norris as he was a lecturer of my dad’s when he was there and she always thought he was a great man, shame about him and his lover in Israel. My aunt, meanwhile, voted for Michael D, to which I asked, why? She’s a proud northerner, she isn’t too fond of Labour down there, why not Martin?
      ‘Well, he was on saying Paisley is a statesman this and statesman that. The same man used to open his mouth full of hate and a young Catholic would be gunned down thanks to him. Being in power in Stormont has went to his head!’

      So, as you can see, I would agree that for Kearney, it may be nigh on impossible for him to deliver this as so many ordinary Republicans and Nationalists have nothing to apologise for.

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