This is another in our series on 'Dealing with the Past', written by guest contributors and designed to encourage constructive reflection - this article is written by Kenny Donaldson, Director of Services for SEFF (South East Fermanagh Foundation) and Spokesman for Innocent Victims United . He is also Honorary Secretary of Creggan Church of Ireland Parish (based outside Crossmaglen)
A fundamental problem is the use of language within our Society and how a word or phrase can have a multitude of meanings for different people.
‘The Past’ is shorthand language which Government, the Churches and others have used in relaying what occurred over the period commonly referred to as ‘The Troubles’ otherwise understood by vast swathes of the population as the ‘years of the terror campaign.’
But for victims and survivors of Terrorism, ‘The Past’ is very much ‘Their Present.’ Others may talk in the past tense but for victims and survivors the sense of loss, the pain, the sense of injustice is a daily fixture of their lives.
When the phrase; you need to move on is written or said - this is understood by victims and survivors of Terrorism as; you need to get over it, you need to forgive and forget. However the language; move forward is acceptable to victims and survivors because it is rooted in the principles of empowerment and survival and is about, an individual victim freeing themselves of the burden they have been forced to carry, it is about them saying; I will have some semblance of life for my own good and for the betterment of my surviving family - Terrorism and violence has dealt me an horrific blow but it will not break my soul.
To date we have had a one-sided sponsored re-write of ‘The Past.’ History is in danger of being turned on its’ head. Anyone living outside our land would be forgiven for believing that the IRA’s terror campaign was a legitimate response to evils being inflicted upon an individual section of the population.
The Truth is very different. The demands of the Civil Rights Campaign were fully met in 1972 and a roadmap was in place for a new Northern Ireland to develop however militant Republicanism had other ideas. That ideology was not concerned about equality but rather instigated a campaign whose endgame was the forced enactment of a United Ireland solution. This ideology bred a narrative that one neighbour using bombs and bullets against their fellow neighbour was a legitimate action in the furtherance of the overall political objective.
What then is required to ‘Deal with the Past?’
It is my belief that an accord/public acknowledgement must be agreed and communicated by the UK and R.O.I Governments and all terrorist organisations that; the use of terrorism and violence in the furtherance of or defence of a ‘political’ objective was never justified.
Were this to happen then we would have a foundation stone from which to build. Whilst organisations or individuals remain in denial of this fundamental point, there remains a serious threat of history repeating itself and of a further generation reverting to the sins perpetrated by their forebears.
It is essential that in building genuine Reconciliation (or as many would suggest, ‘Conciliation’ because it could be argued that our people have never genuinely been together and fully integrated) that individuals are prepared to submit to the 3 R’s - expressing Remorse for wrong words and deeds, showing genuine Repentance and then engaging in acts of Restitution. Were our Society at large prepared to follow this template then we would all have a very different future ahead of us.
The critical point to remember with Reconciliation is that for it to be a genuine process that there needs to be a faith conviction at the centre - humankind must reconcile with our Lord before we can ever truly reconcile with one another. The ‘Peace and Reconciliation industry’ that has developed in our land is a very poor imitation of the genuine article. And like so much else Republicans have diminished the process of ‘Reconciliation’ through their own narrow and isolationist agenda.
Those of us who live in and around this place have a vested interest in ensuring that the integrity of ‘The Past’ is preserved. We must resist pressure being exerted by ‘The Establishment’ to laud once terrorists who now assume the mantle of ‘Peacemakers.’ Rather we should reserve our humble praise and thanks for those who held the line against Terrorism and Anarchy; we must understand the heroes and martyrs of this Society to be those who rejected violence, those who refused to inflict harm upon their fellow neighbour.
All of us know within our inner being know what is right and what is wrong and if we have engaged in acts which diminished our neighbours in any way then through God’s Counsel we must make right past wrongs.
I view the actions of Republican or Loyalist terrorists or individual members of the security forces who broke the code and engaged in wanton acts of criminality in exactly the same light. None of that was legitimate and Justice, Truth and Accountability must prevail.
Enough is enough; this Society needs to do better. As Ghandi once remarked: ‘The true measure of any Society can be found in how it treats its’ most vulnerable members.’ How would Ghandi view our Society today?