Dealing with the Past, Dealing with the Future? Responses to the Eames-Bradley Report

image Secretary of State Owen Paterson has published a summary of the responses to the Eames Bradley Report on dealing with Northern Ireland’s past, revealing an overwhelmingly negative reaction to it.

As the unionist newspaper the News Letter puts it, ‘Ulster Rejects Eames Bradley Report on the Troubles.’ So is this just another case of ‘Ulster Says No’?

First, I think it’s worth pointing out that the Eames Bradley Report was itself the product of a wide ranging consultation.

The responses that Paterson has published are essentially yet another consultation on a consultation.

The BBC Reports that this second consultation received 174 individual responses, as well as 72 responses from organisations, political parties, academics and medical experts. It summarises,

Of the organisations that gave a clear view on the recommendation, 22 supported it while 15 opposed it. Out of the 174 individual responses, 165 were against the proposal.

It also says,

Out of 174 people who responded to the report, most rejected it in its entirety without comment.

I have to ask how useful a consultation is that doesn’t manage to get many of those who rejected the Report to provide any reasons for doing so, let alone constructive criticisms or alternative suggestions.

Of those who did respond more fully, Paterson notes that this serves mainly to highlight the disagreement and diversity of opinion about what should be done to deal with the past.

It’s hard to know if or how much any of those who responded to the Report were affected by the negative reaction and coverage of one of the report’s recommendations, a £12,000 recognition payment.

Indeed, in an editorial in today’s Belfast Telegraph, Paterson specifically condemns this recommendation,

Discussion of the Eames-Bradley Report was, of course, dominated by the proposal for a £12,000 universal recognition payment.

This Government does not agree with that recommendation and will not be taking it forward. Such payments would make no distinction whatever between the perpetrators of terrorism and their victims.

We cannot — and will never — accept that.

Politically motivated violence, on all sides, was never justified, and we will not be party to a re-write of history in order to give it a spurious legitimacy. We will not compromise our support for the rule of law.

Paterson also said,

Following Saville, there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past at vast public expense. We will not accept a hierarchy of investigations into the past.

So we know what we won’t be dealing with the past through recognition payments or inquiries. But what will we be doing?

It’s not clear to me that the publication of these responses advances that debate very much, although Paterson identifies some questions that need to be addressed:

  • What is the right process for dealing with the past?
  • Do we need to do more work on building a shared future before actively confronting what are very painful events?
  • How should we spend the limited resources we have on the past when there are so many pressures on current public spending?
  • How do we balance investigating the past while ensuring that we effectively police the present and the future?

That last question should take on an even greater urgency given the rioting over the 12th of July period. For those tempted to dismiss the mayhem, a chilling article from Sunday’s Telegraph bears the tagline, ‘Last week’s riots in Northern Ireland could be the harbinger of a new wave of republican terrorism, with dissident groups recruiting youths who feel betrayed by Stormont.’

It details how Sinn Fein representatives, who previously might have exerted some control over the area, were mocked by the rioting youths, one of whom shouted at Bobby Storey,

"Shove off, old man. … Sure, you sold out your community. Just so that the likes of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness could parade about in posh suits and sit up in Stormont. What do they care about the Ardoyne now? You lot don’t speak for us any more. Why don’t you just f––– off.”

Dealing with the Past and Building a Shared Future – these two processes must be inextricably linked if Northern Ireland is to move beyond its ancient troubles.

But the rounds of consultations Northern Ireland has had on its past and on its future don’t seem to have gotten us very far.

(The full response document can be found here.)

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