By Anne Cadwallader.
Families bereaved in the Northern conflict can only look on in disbelief as the population of Ireland, on both sides of the border, continues to focus almost exclusively on “the B word”.
For a brief moment, last year, grieving relatives saw their desire for truth and justice flicker dimly during public discourse as London launched a public consultation on how to address the legacy of conflict.
Dozens of families spent hours perusing the proposals and the consultation documents issued by the Northern Ireland Office before offering their own considered views on the best way forward.
The public focus on their plight was, however, almost completely overshadowed by a right-wing campaign in London demanding an amnesty, exclusively, to British soldiers who had used lethal force, possibly illegally.
That campaign, waged by the “military wing of the Conservative Party” seeks to absolve soldiers who killed over 300 people during the conflict, of any responsibility for their actions.
Forced to feel a vague sense of guilt for continuing to demand a fair and equitable process to investigate the past, bereaved families are now wondering what – if anything – will emerge in the political chaos caused by Brexit.
The outcome of the public consultation process is anticipated by the spring – but what, if anything, the British government will do to establish the promised institutions remains to be seen.
London has its own reasons for wishing to concrete over what its servants and agents did in the past. Those reasons are not difficult to identify and concern collusion, dirty tricks and illegal ‘counter-insurgency’ tactics.
Although much has been written and said about the Irish peace process, the injustices faced by bereaved families who have yet to see anyone brought to book, are the great unspoken and unresolved piece of the jigsaw.
Many – but not all – families now accept that they will never get their ‘day in court’ or witness the perpetrators who caused their grief and bereavement brought to book.
There is a minority who still hold that they are entitled to prosecutions – but only some will ever see those they hold responsible in jail. Nevertheless, they have a right to hold fast to their demands.
Those who have given up ever seeing on the impartial and robust administration of justice, however, still want a modicum of truth – while conceding there is little point dragging 70-year-old perpetrators into court.
The legacy processes now under consideration in London, Belfast and, to a lesser extent, Dublin would offer hope to all families whose bereavement remains unexplained.
Both ‘sides’ of the community in the North, and the families of the 50-or-so people killed by loyalists in the Republic, have an investment in this battle.
It is difficult to see how reconciliation will ever be possible without the truth, while undoubtedly ugly, being exposed for all to see.
The bereaved families are not visible, out on the streets, protesting.
They are at home, often isolated, and wondering why people in Britain and Ireland do not share their burning sense of injustice at a conflict that ended without their concerns being addressed.
As politicians and people debate the merits, and demerits, of a new politics, a new dynamic and possibly a new agreed Ireland, families bereaved in the conflict are asking themselves what kind of country would we live in then if it was built on the lies and misconceptions that currently pose as the history of the conflict?
Anne Cadwallader is an advocacy case worker with the Pat Finucane Centre, and author of Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland (Mercier Press 2013). Follow her on Twitter @AnneCadwallader.