16 November 2006 Edition
Truth recovery Courage and maturity needed in facing up to the past
Republicans, victims, acknowledgement and truth
Whether or not the British state ever acknowledges its primary role in the conflict, it does not absolve us as Irish republicans from our own responsibilities. I am not British. I am an Irish republican. I believe we have a qualitatively different moral value system which demands that we must show courage and maturity in facing up to our past.
The reality is that the British state lacks the moral conviction to face up to its responsibilities. I say that as a family member active in the New Lodge Six Campaign for truth around the killing of six men by the British state in 1973. I know, from personal experience, how frustrating and difficult it is for families in their search for truth.
There have been sporadic attempts by republicans to deal with the past and the legacy of the conflict. As far back as January 1999 Gerry Adams acknowledged the human impact of conflict stating, "I recognise that the death of a British soldier or an RUC member causes great trauma and grief for their families and friends. No matter about their role in the conflict the loss at a personal level is massive and regrettable."
In my view, this spirit of generosity and acknowledgement has not been reciprocated by any other combatant group. And the IRA leadership went even further in July 2002 stating that: "The future will not be found in denying collective failures and mistakes or closing minds and hearts to the plight of those who have been hurt. That includes all of the victims of the conflict, combatants and non-combatants." For me, as someone whose family has been directly affected by the conflict, this statement demonstrates confidence and maturity in dealing with the issue head-on.
I believe that republicans have set the standards in dealing with the legacy of the past. Critically though I do not want to gauge the integrity of any possible republican initiative on the past on a British moral compass. There is no moral equivalence between our responsibilities as Irish republicans to our people and that of a foreign occupier.
Yet, I believe we need to do more. In my opinion, we now need to move beyond statements or political interventions. My main concern in this is around what republicans can do to advance the process of dealing with our past.
I have campaigned on behalf of the New Lodge Six in London and Dublin. We even lodged a symbolic petition at the UN. It is soul destroying when no one in political authority wants to listen. There is a conspiracy of silence and a barrel full of empty promises when families seek truth and justice. Do families bereaved through republican actions also feel isolated, disillusioned and alone? They must do.
The doors of the high political offices that sanctioned murder on the New Lodge are known to the families of state killings. But there is a sense of frustration and bewilderment if your loved one was killed as a consequence of republican actions.
In all sincerity we cannot demand open and transparent truth processes from other combatants if we are not prepared to offer them ourselves. Republicans must demonstrate the same commitment, dedication and tenacity as was evident in trying to locate the bodies of those who were secretly buried by the IRA. The courage of the IRA leadership made me proud of their efforts to deal with this awful chapter. More of that same courage is needed in dealing with legacy issues within wider society.
Our leadership has created the parameters within which this debate must be progressed. In a context of building confidence and reaching out to unionists, republicans must publicly acknowledge the untold human pain and suffering within this community that was as a direct consequence of military actions.
While life was not lost in a vacuum but in a war, this logic is of absolutely no consequence to the bereaved families.
My rationale is simple. As an activist I have supported and campaigned for our families in their quest for truth and justice in exposing the policies of collusion, torture, or shoot-to-kill without examining the brutal consequences of republican actions.
Whether or not other combatant groups follow is not the issue. The untold suffering of our community has not, and might never be formally acknowledged, by the British state. Notwithstanding this, there is a clear, stand alone, moral obligation on Republicans to make amends for past actions. It is my belief that the process of dealing with the past would be enhanced if our leadership unilaterally convened a victim-centred process tailored to addressing the questions of families bereaved through republican actions.
Republicans must be receptive to dialogue with victims' families in a way that affirms and acknowledges our contribution to their loss. This would be the first step in the creation of a victim-centred acknowledgement process. Such a process would be challenging. There may well be risks. But it is clearly the right thing to do.
There is a moral imperative to help others reclaim the memories of their loved ones. We expect no less for our own loved ones. Such a process has the potential to begin the process of national healing and reconciliation and will empower Republicans to deal with the ghosts from our own past and the harm done onto others in the pursuit of building a new republic.
• John Loughran is a member of the New Lodge Six Campaign Group