Can it be right to do what seems the wrong thing?

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Many in Northern Ireland have shared the experience of 35 and more years of conflict and violence but those experiences have not been the same.

Northern Ireland has many pasts and many narratives. There are different views of who or what is right and who or what is wrong.

It is in this context that, like the part negotiated, part choreographed Good Friday Agreement, which required many of its advocates to permit their head to overrule their heart, not least over the release of prisoners, the more recent comments of Attorney General John Larkin and now the revelation pertaining to the On-the-runs (OTRs) test the logic and ethics of groups and individuals who will question if it can ever be justified to mainstream the previously unacceptable.

Can it ever be right to do what seems the wrong thing? Can democracy close off for good the right to justice even where evidence may become available over time?

The straight edge indicates the extent to which you stray.

In its acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement the majority of people chose the extent to which they were prepared to adjust and risk their respective stances to shape a self-referenced and partisan moral levelling that facilitated and continues to inform what remains a process. The unorthodox became the new orthodoxy.

The desire to end a septic and sordid conflict took precedence, as important and difficult issues were unresolved.

They continue to be important and in need of resolution otherwise Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan would not have been brought to Northern Ireland. But, being important does not guarantee a solution.

Attempts have been made through enquiries. They are costly and in the main focus on the actions of the state.

There is no even-handed strategy that offers enquiries into similar incidents perpetrated by paramilitary organisations so they create as many problems as they solve. The time is now probably past for such a measure to be meaningful.

Issues become politicised either through the actions of those who seek to use findings to construct a narrative justifying their actions or by those who demand an at times vengeful re-balancing of emerging truths so that their constituency is not disadvantaged.

Politics has and is stealing the dead and renders peace making more problematic against a maelstrom of accusation and counter-accusation.

Community identity is the political camouflage. The unscrupulous nature of the NIO and Westminster has proven toxic.

The champions for the differing views are absolutist and unyielding. They are not about understanding and interpretation but justification. Actions are predicated on feelings of anger and desire for retribution.

Now the reaction over the OTRs is predictable. The only surprising thing is that people are surprised.

During the years when de-commissioning, OTRs, joint Declaration and other issues were being discussed I was on the Party Executive of the UUP and it was always clear where the priorities of Westminster lay.

Westminster under the leadership of Tony Blair was unscrupulous in its dealing with unionism and was determined to put whatever pressure was necessary and make whatever deals were required to bring Sinn Féin into the political arena.

This much is clear from the writings of such as Jonathan Powell. It is a matter of historical record.

Sinn Féin did what it always does. It pursued its agenda relentlessly and put the interests of Sinn Féin above all else. This methodology has not gone away nor will it. Unionism collectively and in party terms has proved itself unsure, without vision and any meaningful strategy or tactics. Now it dances angrily on the spot once more but what can that achieve?

This is a time for cool heads and clear focus.

Unionism should be about providing and empowering leadership in a Northern Ireland that works for the vast majority of people of all creeds and backgrounds.

It may be right to request further consideration of those issues arising from Haass but in failing to shape the talks into a process for reconciliation and resolution built on those standards of democracy, ethics and morality from which the community has strayed too far it is failing the process, democracy and itself.

A unionist leadership needs to emerge that is capable of constructing a coalition of progressive, economically focused and non-sectarian unionists at all levels of society, prepared to put people and the country before party interests and posturing.

It needs to be able to shape decisions at Westminster and hold the decision makers accountable.

It needs to construct a platform for review and change that will address the failings of Stormont and offer a leaner, joined-up and sustainable programme that solves economic, educational and health issues rather than skirting around them waiting for the next crisis to happen.

It needs to move away from flags, banners, parades and regalia. Allow them to be what they are namely cultural and not political. Focus on reconciliation and resolution

Best practice is seen in the approach of those groups who are not leaving the work of reconciliation and restoration to the politicians.

They choose to work in the space provided by the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements, to build reconciliation through sensitive discourse and interaction aimed at resolving difference.

It is rarely easy but they are re-building a stable moral and ethical base, firmer than in the past, for taking our society forward with a more inclusive and determined focus.

Theirs is the methodology and agenda more likely to ensure that there will be no return to the past.

They take a hard look at themselves and turn the prism to see the other without pre-judgement. Relationships are built on what people are for rather than what they are against.

For this to continue, requires support through political leadership embedded in the necessity of doing what must be done to re-build shared moral and ethical values, the absence of which promotes an imperfect peace and political instability.

For this to continue requires grace and compassion from those who were the orchestrators and perpetrators of conflict.

It requires atonement and truth telling on all sides. It requires remembrance where it is practised to be repentant.

It requires honesty and openness for no person can be their own mediator. It requires all to test their actions, past and present, against measures that are ethically and morally robust in terms of humanity and social justice.

The resources lie within and acted upon without selection may begin to repair the brokenness of victims left on the margins of the political Agreements.

Some victims seek retribution, whilst others seek truth, justice and closure or a combination of these. They are not all attainable in every instance.

All need to know and it should not be beyond our capacity to create processes wherein this can happen. Not without difficulty, this is achievable and once underway and completed may diminish the demand for other actions.

It seems we are into another crisis. But, it is not so much what happens but what you do with it that matters

The quality of response could ensure a future better than our past.