Transforming the Legacy II
Our initial paper on reconciliation Transforming the Legacy released on 22 April 2013 is, we believe, a foundational document for loyalist entry into debate about reconciliation. It strongly underlines our belief that a wider debate about reconciliation must take place and that such a debate must favour no-one. It is a clear statement that the parameters and issues which frame that debate must reflect inclusivity by involving as many as possible in what reconciliation means and what any subsequent reconciliation process would set out to achieve. Transforming the Legacy highlighted that there is historical precedence for loyalist participation in dialogue about the need to deal with the legacy of the past in order to move on and release Northern Ireland from the fearful society that has endured. Our engagement with and support for the Good Friday Agreement was also an acknowledgement of the need for reconciliation and is expressed as an aspiration in that document. We feel, however, that a growing concern with loss across our community has exacerbated fears about change and in the process significantly hindered the confidence necessary to meet the challenges of social and political transformation ahead. We believe that it is important to address the confidence deficit that has emerged because of this fear. Serious self-examination is therefore necessary in order to understand how reaction to change is preventing progressive, radical and creative thinking in our communities. We need to remember that we have a history of creativity, invention and achievement. Even though we are a political party, our approach is shaped very much by the view that reconciliation must be a social rather than political project and envisaged in such terms. We also believe that before there is any meaningful discussion about reconciliation we need to see examples and evidence that opposing communities can agree about how to address divisive issues without this leading to a deterioration of relations. There needs to be, to put it another way, conciliation which provides a clear and agreed starting point from which further progress towards reconciliation can be made. At the moment, and as recent events illustrate, such conciliation is lacking. We recognise that a number of areas have to be accommodated if the reconciliation debate is to gain traction. As said, first there must be clear and successful examples of conciliation between communities which show irrefutably that problems can be overcome together. The Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements are clear examples of this possibility. Second there should be acknowledgement of the need for honesty, integrity and respect when dealing with the pain and suffering of the past. And third, all efforts to achieve such ends must be conducted within an atmosphere and climate of inclusivity. We believe that responsibility for the past should be seen collectively and that any attempt to influence judgement or punishment must be avoided. It is clear that if Northern Ireland is to move on then it must transcend traditional and divisive antagonisms otherwise the future will become little more than an extension of the past, with the same exclusivity and the same ingredients for conflict remaining in place. We are determined to change this. Our role in the reconciliation debate is to strengthen identity and confidence through honest, open and considered engagement with the issues that arise. But to do this it is important that we think clearly and collaboratively about what kind of future society we want to live in and how that society will enable our children and future generations to lead fulfilling and productive lives. Any expectations of truth in relation to a reconciliation process must be seen in pragmatic terms. We remain convinced that there cannot be any rigid or fixated notions of the truth applied to dealing with the past. This would most likely be used to reinforce difference and so become an extension of division and intolerance. Truth is changeable, so there can be no claims for definitive or singular versions of it which attempt to control expectations of what is acceptable and what is not. As the Consultative Group on the Past Report observed ‘Complete truth is unattainable’ so dealing with the past will entail ‘conversations about conflicting moral judgements and not just the facts’. We are very clear there can be no possibility of reconciliation without a process which is not inclusive. Inclusivity ensures that reconciliation is intended collectively and for society as a whole. There can be no attempt to use a reconciliation process to enshrine narratives about who inflicted the most and who suffered the most. Although all stories and experiences must be allowed to be told they must also be framed and understood in relation to a bigger responsibility which is about learning lessons from the past in order to help build a better and more inclusive future. However unpalatable to some reconciliation depends on as many as possible being involved and engaging with honesty about the past. Having said that no-one can be compelled or told to be part of such a process. Participation must be voluntary. Obviously there should be mechanisms and safeguards implemented which minimise calls for retribution and prevent the exacerbation of trauma, however this is for a formal body to determine rather than us and such a body has to be independent, neutral and beyond political influence. It must provide both the context and mechanisms to deal with reconciliation as well as build from conciliatory foundations. We fully recognise and believe that Northern Ireland society as a whole can only claim some ownership of a reconciliation process if Northern Ireland society as a whole embraces and seeks to engage with it. The opportunity to develop a meaningful reconciliation debate is one which we welcome. The next stage is to develop a wider social conversation about the value and examples of conciliation from which we can build. We wish to restate however that we will not be part of any narrow point-scoring exercise or any process which appears duplicitous or dishonest. This risks not only discrediting reconciliation itself but trapping communities into the same attitudes which create mistrust, sectarianism and conflict. Loyalists should involve themselves in the reconciliation debate but must also be honest about fears and how those fears may be holding us back from playing a positive role in a changing Northern Ireland both for ourselves and others. We believe this is vital if we are to help move Northern Ireland away from its destructive past towards a more constructive and better future. We should seek to do this together to create a stronger Northern Ireland rather than stand by and see a weaker, more fragmented one emerge.