Foyle MP Mark Durkan has spoken, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Greysteel massacre, of Northern Ireland’s progress towards a lasting peace.
He said: “I share the strong sense of solidarity with those who gathered last week in sombre commemoration of the terrible Shankill bombing. Equally, we will all lend our solidarity to those families who go through this week’s anniversary of the Greysteel attack, and all the others who lost loved ones, sometimes in lonely deaths that are not remembered in the commemorations of the landmark atrocities of the Troubles, because they, too, have their feelings touched or stirred by such commemorations.
I also concur completely on the need to repudiate any pretence that some sort of claim about a just war can be made in relation to the IRA campaign, or indeed any other campaign of republican violence over recent decades.
It is supposed to be a Russian proverb that to dwell on the past is to lose an eye, but to forget the past is to lose both eyes. That is why we must properly acknowledge and address issues of the past. It is not enough, as some people sometimes suggest, to draw a line under the past and move on, or just to find some glib form of closure. Too many people are burdened by the past, carrying hurt and feelings that are all too present. They cannot just decide that they are well adjusted victims and move on when they are confronted with denial about what actually happened to them and about the nature of the crimes committed against them, their loved ones or their community. In those circumstances, we cannot treat victims as though some are well adjusted and some are badly adjusted because of where they are on the reconciliation scale according to some commentator or other.
We have to confront the past properly if it is not to be repeated. We currently have a group of dissidents who are basically happy to say that they are continuing the methods and principles of struggle pursued by the Provisional IRA. Thankfully, many of those who were involved in the Provisional IRA now choose to repudiate and reject the violence pursued by these dissidents, but it is important that current and future generations know the truth about the nature of the Provisional IRA campaign. Those who were involved in the Provisional IRA cannot give themselves some sort of moral superiority over the violence carried out by today’s dissidents, which is targeted in the same vicious and reckless way.
The Pat Finucane Centre (last week) also published a book called “Lethal Allies” by Anne Cadwallader, which looks at some very dark aspects of the Troubles. It relates to a number of cases—10 in particular—that have been investigated by the Historical Enquiries Team, but the reports have never been made public because the HET reports are offered as the private property of the families. That is a weakness that I think we need to address.
The truth about many of those deaths and murders is coming out now in different ways, but the fact is that untruths (not least in the House of Commons) were told about many of those deaths and murders. The claims of my colleagues Seamus Mallon, John Hume, Joe Hendron and Eddie McGrady about the dirty war, and our concerns about intelligence not being properly shared or used, about people not being apprehended and about collusion, were all denied. But the truth shone through in the De Silva report on the Finucane murder and it shines through in this book as well.
Some of the victims were targeted by loyalist gangs, which included some members who served concurrently in the security forces. Those victims were targeted not because they were involved in the IRA or anything else, but because they were obviously seen as uppity Fenians—they had been associated with the civil rights movement, were involved in the SDLP, were buying property and developing businesses, so they were put down. It is clear that the people specifically targeted in their homes and cars came into that class. Others, of course—including members of the security forces themselves—were more randomly targeted.
Let us also remember that some members of the security forces lost their lives in attacks that could have been prevented had intelligence been shared and acted on. However, there was a warped game going on, in which some inside the security forces—particularly in the intelligence services—put the long war intelligence game ahead of the immediate protection of the lives of civilians and members of the security forces.
Collusion was not just something whereby agents of the state allowed loyalist attacks to happen; they also allowed republican attacks and servants of the state and people in the community to be killed. That truth needs to be told. If we do not have the truth about the dirty war, we will be settling for a dirty peace. If we do not have the truth about the viciousness and nastiness of all the violence that took place from all the paramilitaries, we will be selling future generations a false narrative about the experience of the past.
I was amazed to be told by a young man in Derry that the IRA only ever killed so-called “legitimate targets”—only those in the security forces and only in the high heat of active service incidents. That, of course, is completely untrue. It is one of the reasons why we need a proper truth process about the past to spell things out. Will we get the truth from the victim makers? No, but we need at least to gather and consolidate the truth from the victims. They need to know that their truth will be remembered and acknowledged. They must not die with the burden of remembrance heavy on their shoulders, as it is for too many of them.
We have to resolve the issue with a proper framework for dealing with the past. It will not be a one-size-fits-all approach, and it will mean that we politicians have to face up to our failures on this issue. Ever since the Good Friday Agreement, every time there were talks and an impasse, both my party and I made proposals about the need to address the past. We were constantly faced with evasion, both from the two governments and from other parties.
As I was told by the Secretary of State at the time (Paul Murphy), the reason why there was nothing in the 2003 talks in Hillsborough for victims and the past was that both Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionist Party were absolutely clear that there should not be. The past was not to be touched and there was to be nothing for victims in that deal, which was meant to be a breakthrough.
However, I think that the Haass process really does give us another chance. At least the parties are gathered together and we are engaged in a process. Previously we have been arguing about whether there should be a process or the shape of it. People resiled from the very good recommendations in Eames / Bradley, and I think that the Haass process will look at those. The HET has already done good work in a lot of areas, but it has not been consolidated and built up. A lot of good and strong recommendations in Eames / Bradley need to be revised and revisited.
There is also very good work going on in the cultural sector. I think of Theatre of Witness, which has done so much to portray the true stories and experiences of people, whether loyalists, republicans, innocent victims, members of the security forces, prison staff, or whoever. Those true stories are all brought together compellingly, not in any controlled or contrived balance but in a very powerful and emotional way. That is a strong way of helping to discharge us from the past so that people can see truth instead of injustice and reconciliation instead of retribution.”