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14 May 1998 Edition

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Remember victims by uncovering truth

by Laurence McKeown

As I write this, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield is preparing to announce the results of his study into how best to remember and commemorate those who have died in the conflict in the Six Counties over the last three decades. A very laudable project one might well say, but I think it premature, flawed and sure to cause hurt and offence to different groups.

It is premature because we are still in a very early stage of moving from a military conflict to a situation where representatives of our communities can sit down and debate and discuss both what we share in common and what, at the moment, separates us. Indeed there is much scepticism within the nationalist community that some unionists will ever engage in dialogue with Sinn Fein. The jury is still out on that one and we can but wait and see. As it sits though, not many will be willing to listen to them, the unionists, if they are not willing to listen to others. The choice is theirs and time will not stand still while they make up their minds.

The project to commemmorate the dead is flawed because it does not in any way attempt to look at how people died in circumstances that are still disputed. It has taken years to finally set up an enquiry into the Bloody Sunday shootings, to investigate the political and military manipulation and motivation behind the events of that day. In reality though we need dozens of such enquiries, or more realistically some process similar to that now underway in South Africa, even if the ``Truth Commission'' established there is in itself flawed, with the main focus being on the foot soldiers, the interrogaters and the torturers. Meanwhile, those in positions of power in the judiciary, political and economic systems that held apartheid in place walk away unscathed to continue to amass their fortunes.

If we are truly to remember the dead then we must discover how they died and who was responsible for their deaths. Personally, I don't believe that that means identifying the individuals involved. I don't think we have anything to gain by that. Neither does it appear that the families and relatives seek retribution. What they look for is an understanding of the forces and events that led to the deaths of their loved ones.

The issue is one which republican forces cannot ignore either. There are people who are still seeking confirmation that members of their families were indeed killed and who are longing to recover the bodies of their dead. Imprisoned republicans unable to attend the death of a parent or loved one know only too well the pain of not being able to truly mourn their passing. And though the issue of revelation poses anxieties for those who may know the truth, I believe that we as a community and a movement possess the strength and moral courage to deal with it.

The families of those who have died from our various communities will not, in my view, benefit by having the names of their loved ones inscribed on some cold piece of marble if that indeed is the intention. What would be more fitting would be the telling of their lives and how they died and hopefully through that process gain some understanding of what forces impacted upon all our lives so that the next generations can live together rather than apart.

To attempt to gloss over what has happened and leap forward to an imaginary state of reconcilation when the political realities have still not been dealt with is unwise and therefore a fruitless exercise. It only delays the day when we ultimately must return to the real issues at hand.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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