East Belfast and the past
Alan in Belfast has done a better summary of the East Belfast Speaks Out event from earlier this week than I could hope to.
In the comments section he even includes a link to the BBC radio news report from the event, which features part of my contribution to the debate on dealing with Northern Ireland's violent recent history.
As Alan notes, I raised the spectre that, whatever remarks they might make publicly, there are vested interests in Belfast, London and elsewhere who would be most relieved not to see a full exposition of who did what to whom.
There are plenty of indications that Northern Ireland's "war" was a lot murkier than most people here realise and that the official versions of the conflict don't stand up to scrutiny when the "dirty war" gets exposed to the daylight of investigation (here are just a few such examples, as outlined by security correspondent Brian Rowan, from a previous blog).
Anyway, I made the point that, from Amnesty's research, those countries emerging from conflict which fail to properly interrogate the past to reveal uncomfortable home-truths, often live to not only regret that fact, but to repeat their painful histories.
One of the biggest rounds of applause of the evening came in response to an audience member who said couldn't the two or three hundred million pounds (which a legacy commission / truth process might cost) be put to better use through investment in hospitals, etc. In response, I argued that the public should not let the human rights abusers off the hook so easily by being seduced by the cost argument, while Naomi Long MLA (Belfast's current Lord Mayor) rightly pointed out the that the cost of dealing with a re-emergence of conflict could prove an awful lot higher.
Anyway, today is the last day of the Government consultation on the proposals from the Eames-Bradley commission on dealing with the past. Feel free to send in some last minute views by email. For a human rights perspective, here's a link to the CAJ submission to the consultation, which echoes much of Amnesty's own analysis. Excerpt:
"In our view, there is a need for a genuine and transparent process which addresses the conflicting myths of the past. Otherwise, the danger is that these myths about the conflict will clash in another generation or two. History suggests that without resolution, conflict re-emerges after fifteen years."
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