Remembering and Reconciling The Past.
The past week has been marked by significant anniversaries. Fifty years ago in August 1971, the British Army began mass arrests and imprisonment without trial known as Internment. Amnesty International called the programme “a clearly substantiated prima facie case of torture and brutality”.
In its immediate aftermath, the British Army killed 10 civilians, “entirely innocent of any wrongdoing” over a two-day shooting spree in what became known as the Ballymurphy Massacre.
The truth of the actions of the British Army only gained acknowledgment by the state this year following damning inquest findings this year.
This week also marked the 40th Anniversary of the death on Hunger Strike after 61 days of Tom McElwee. Tom was an 18 years old IRA Volunteer when he was injured in a bomb attack which was part of actions that claimed the life of an innocent young woman, Yvonne Dunlop.
In Long Kesh Prison Hospital, the 23 year old Tom wrote “A Last Wish” in which he sought forgiveness, carried no animosity despite living through the brutality of the H-Blocks, and dreamed of living his life in peace. He was prepared to die for his beliefs but hoped for a settlement.
While Internment was a final desperate act of a single party unionist state, the Hunger Strike was the beginning of something that would eventually lead to the peace process and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
That agreement in 1998 included the right to remember. The Stormont House Agreement of 2014 set out a process to acknowledge and resolve the past. Both are legally binding Agreements that were negotiated, agreed, and signed by the British and Irish governments, and must be fully respected and implemented.
The past is an essential part of who and what we are as a society. It cannot be denied, forgotten or covered up. It needs to be acknowledged in full.
The British Government's rejection of Stormont House and their proposals to end all investigations is abhorrent. It is an attempt to deny the past and an attack on a society rooted in truth and reconciliation.
The British Government’s proposals for a self-serving amnesty drew a sharp rebuke this week from UN Human Rights experts, having already been rejected by all parties, victims groups, and the Irish Government.
They were also rejected by a former deputy director in the State Department in the Obama administration Mr Michael Posner who said that the proposals would undermine British/ US relations.
Implementing agreements, respecting international law and fully acknowledging the past is only way forward to honour all those who died in the conflict and healing the past.