Bloody-Minded Self Interest Will Take Us Nowhere

lesley carroll

By Rev Lesley Carroll

Fortwilliam & Macrory Presbyterian Church



twaddellpatricks riot

Protest at Twaddell Avenue. Parades Commission rulings. Flags lining the streets. Anti Hate Crime demonstrations. Cynicism about the chance of resolving the discordant issues from the past. And so it goes on. So many years on from the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and we still haven’t learned how to live together in the kind of harmony that enables us to celebrate it.


All of this tells us that making peace with opponents is a project that involves generations. The signing of Peace Agreements is only the beginning as opponents begin to build something new, setting aside violence as a means to achieve what they want. In the excitement of the moment perhaps we are all guilty of believing that we have got what we wanted and that our needs, as we express them, will be met. The Agreement was signed in 1998 following on from the 1994 ceasefires. The NI Human Rights Commission was established in 1999 together with the Equality Commission, which took on functions previously exercised by the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Fair Employment Commission and the Northern Ireland Disability Council.  A Commission for Victims and Survivors was established in 2005. That must have seemed a very long time coming for those who had suffered so much. By then the early release of political prisoners, agreed under the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, was long completed.

eye on the ball


Throughout the years, and at every level of society, organisations have been working to improve relationships in and between communities. Programmes to develop new understandings of each other and provide opportunities for real, transformational encounter with one another, new shared visions and hopes, and considerable hard work to increase trust have been run across Northern Ireland. Some will say that these have not succeeded but it is timely to ask ourselves where we would be without them. The persistence of those who believe that this can be a better place must be applauded but I wonder if we took our eye off the ball as we moved into more settled times. I wonder if we thought it was all falling into place and we didn’t need to give the same effort to making and embedding new relationships. I wonder if we still think we can resolve the outstanding issues from the past without being prepared to put in the hard labour of understanding each other and addressing one another’s sense of security.

hard decisions

There will be those who dismiss such talk of good relationships as being far off the political edge. I would argue that the political edge is as blunt as it is because the relationships aren’t there and they are essential when it comes to making hard decisions. Hard decisions only work when relationships exist to carry us through the hard knocks we all have to take to make peace with each other. This is no longer a battle about winning and losing. We now need a conversation about how all of us can work together for a future that is more peaceful than the past, a future in which we are more respectful of each other. In a battling and divided society all sorts of hate crime can endure. If that isn’t what we want then the time has come to make a more real and long-term investment into good relationships. We need rigorous strategy together with carefully directed and adequate resources. In his commentary during Community Relations Week Peter Osborne, Chair of the Community Relations Council has said:


“The £2million that CRC is receiving from the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister will help us sustain vital work at interfaces, help build race relations, help deal with contentious issues like parading, flags and emblems, and more. But to put it in context, it is less than one ten-thousandth (0.0001%) of annual public expenditure in Northern Ireland. In reality, that is nowhere near enough to deal with such a fundamental societal issue as building peace and reconciliation, which will underpin the sustainability of other economic and social change.”

whats in it for me

In light of disgust at recent race-hate crime surely it is time to say together that this is, quite simply, not good enough. Bloody-minded self-interest will take us
 It is time to make more strategic and critical investment in building better relationships so that we can become a community united for a more peaceful, secure, and dynamic future. It is time to do what needs to be done so that we can learn how to live together.

all about me

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When Research Meets Politics: Lessons from Boston College’s Belfast Oral History Project


Birgit_June 2014

By Dr Birgit Schippers

Senior Lecturer in Politics

St Mary’s University College Belfast




Much of the recent attention given to Boston College’s Belfast Oral History project has focussed on the question of confidentiality and its legal implications. The researchers on the project, the academic Dr Anthony McIntyre and the journalist Ed Moloney, claim to have put their faith in Boston College’s assurances of confidentiality agreements given to the research participants, specifically that recordings would not be released until after the death of the participants. The subpoena actions initiated by the PSNI and subsequent decisions by US courts have put to rest once and for all the naive belief that confidentiality assurances are iron-clad.


Less attention has been given to another aspect of this long and still ongoing saga: this is the relationship between research and politics. Hardly anyone hankers after the idea, always contested, that ideas move in a value-free vacuum produced by detached scholars who, sitting in their ivory-towers, are immune from the political values and ideas that influence them as knowledge-producers. Does the acknowledgement that academics carry political baggage allow them, though, to undertake their work with little or no consideration to their research participants, to the political contexts in which they work, or to implications their work has on other scholars?


Moloney refers to McIntyre as a ‘lead IRA researcher’, and his blog defends his and McIntyre’s professionalism, integrity and detachment.  Yet, looking at the Boston College debacle, it appears that what the project lacks is the very professionalism, integrity and detachment that Moloney claims. What would shed light on Moloney’s claims is openness and honesty about the ethical integrity of the project. What is missing in the public debate around this issue is information on the ethical scrutiny and oversight applied by Boston College. Like any academic institution, surely Boston College must have a procedure for the ethical scrutiny of research, and an ethics committee that scrutinizes the ethical practice underpinning research. Did an ethics review happen in the case of the Boston College project? And what was its outcome?

gerry adams

The project is now treated by academics as a textbook case of ethical malpractice. In addition to the project’s well-rehearsed problems with confidentiality, it also raises concerns regarding the safety of the research participants. I wish to highlight a different issue: is it permissible to engage in research to make a political point? And is it acceptable to undermine good ethical practice in the name of a political cause? Both researchers on this project are well-known critics of Gerry Adams and the Sinn Fein strategy pursued under his leadership. This is a legitimate political view to take; it is also legitimate and necessary to submit the actions, ideas and practices of political actors to robust and critical scholarly scrutiny. However, when the political views of researchers permeate the aim and methodology of their research, we enter a grey zone where the lines between scholarly research and propaganda become blurred. From what we know so far, all of the republican research participants seem to espouse the same political stance as McIntyre and Moloney. Such an apparent disavowal of a balanced approach in its choice of research participants, together with Dr McIntyre’s recent insinuation that he used leading questions, challenges the aim, remit and indeed the name of the project. Put differently, was the project designed to produce an oral history archive of the protagonists of the conflict, or is its purpose to advance a one-sided view on the conflict? If the latter is the case, then this project disguises political propaganda as scholarly research.



The conduct of McIntyre and Moloney has shaken the trust of conflict protagonists to participate in oral history research, and it is fair to conclude that this project has had a negative impact on the use of research as an aid to understanding conflict. It has also damaged the prospects of other scholars, especially those interested in oral history and narrative research, to conduct similar projects. One would hope that future projects restore some of the lost confidence in the integrity of research and produce work that is more thoughtful and  reflective.


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Who do you think you are?

jude collins

By Jude Collins

Political Commentator


who do you think


Many of you will be familiar with the ancestry television programme ‘Who do you think you are’? Celebrities are taken on a guided tour of their family lineage and it throws up all manner of interesting twists and turns. I suppose all of us could do with some sort of honest indication of where we came from instead of daydreaming about long lost relatives.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself to realise I’m awake. One such case occurred a week or so ago, when the present Mrs Collins directed my attention to a six-minute video interview of Eamon Dunphy by Barry Egan  from the Sunday Independent.

gerry adams

The amazing part, like a dog walking on its hind legs, was not that it was done well but that it was done at all. Not too long ago – say, before the last elections? – the Sunday Independent would have walked hot coals while sticking needles in its eyes before producing an interview that used “Gerry Adams”  and “ Taoiseach” in the same sentence.

army pension what

“Eh?” you say. “Presumably it was a sentence which went something like ‘The Taoiseach yesterday said Gerry Adams was a man of violence and he could not look at him for more than two minutes without being sick to his stomach?’ ”  No, I’m afraid not. In the course of the interview the suggestion that Gerry Adams might one day be Taoiseach was put forward as a real possibility.


But the best part – the most realistic part – was when Dunphy confronted the Jean McConville question. I don’t think he actually dealt with whether or not Gerry Adams was implicated in her death; instead Dunphy noted that the McConville death occurred 42 years ago. Forty-two years before that, he pointed out, Michael Collins was around and was killing people  (and yes, Virginia, Eamon’s not too good at Maths – it’s more like 52 years). As was Sean Lemass. As was Ryan Tubridy (he of The Late Late Show)’s grandfather. All men of violence. So we’d do well to keep in mind, Eamo said, that this state ( in the south) was founded on violence, whether we like it or not. And that it was a bit rich for people nowadays to get holier-than-thou with the likes of Gerry Adams.

holier than thou

And of course the northern state was created through the threat of violence. Yet here up north we’re so big into holier-than-thou we should apply to the patent office. Can you remember the last time you read a piece in The News Letter praising or even soberly assessing the guns-to-peace achievement of Gerry Adams? Or a columnist in the Belfast Telegraph assessing the crucial input of Sinn Féin into the peace process? And yes, Virginia, The Irish News  is a nationalist paper – but you’ll find few editorials testifying to the massive success of Sinn Féin in moving republicanism into partnership with the DUP.

rip van winkle

There is the occasional exception but by and large, our northern media and unionist politicians seem to inhabit a Rip Van Winkle world. It’s as though they’d fallen into a deep slumber circa 1990 and were now awakening, not to rub their eyes, wonder at the huge changes that’ve been wrought and learn to live together, but rather to talk and act as though the last twenty-five years had never happened. Unionist politicians who are in government with Sinn Féin can’t bring themselves to pass the time of day to a Shinner. Recently-elected to the Mid and East Antrim council, 23-year-old Patrice Hardy was on Facebook recently quoting a mocking email from a unionist councillor who wouldn’t acknowledge her existence face-to-face. All this, remember, from that part of our community which holds some 4,000 marches annually to remind us and themselves of bloody achievements over 300 years old. No need for them to indulge in ancestry searches -  they already know who they are, apparently!

Listen, guys. Rub your knuckles in your eyes, have a cold shower and start acting like rational, twenty-first century people. Patrice Hardy wasn’t even born when you fell asleep.

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Getting To Know You; Getting To Know All About You

jude collins

By Jude Collins

Political Commentator



When I was working in education, there used to be a subject called Education for Mutual Understanding. It always provoked in me a quiet chuckle,  because it suggested what was wrong here was that we misunderstood each other.  If only we could understand each other, all animosity would drop away.

in peace with neighbours

Some 30+ years later, I find myself still chuckling. Feile an Phobail every year has a panel discussion called ‘West Belfast Talks Back’ and when I’m around I always attend it. The jewel in the discussion’s crown is that the panel always includes someone who holds a firmly unionist and/or anti-republican view of the world. I’ve always admired this inclusiveness and wondered why there wasn’t more quid pro quo from the unionist side. Of late I’ve begun to wonder if it matters either way.

You’ll remember that Martin McGuinness travelled to Windsor a while back for that white-tie and tails do. Afterwards, the Deputy First Minister reassured his followers by pointing out that he was a republican before he met the queen and he was still a republican after breaking bread with her.

difficult questions

What’s my point? It’s this: if meeting and getting to know people with a sharply-different take on the world (or this twisted little corner of it) doesn’t produce any change in thinking, some modification of perspective, what’s it for?


I’ve been writing a daily blog for some five years now. Judging from the comments that people post on each article I upload, people enjoy what they read…OK, maybe ‘enjoy’ is too positive a word, but they find the blogs sufficiently interesting that they read them. But does it change anyone’s thinking? I doubt that. What I find is that those who started out sharing my thinking read the blog and say “Exactly what I was thinking – good blog!”;  while the people who started out not sharing my thinking read the blog and say “I don’t agree with a word of that – what a useless blog!”


Maybe the answer to my discontent lies up on the hill at Stormont. There, I’m given to believe, DUP MLAs cannot bring themselves to shake hands, converse, even talk about the weather with the MLAs from Sinn Féin. That is so patently regrettable, it maybe points me to an answer for the change that we can hope for when people from different loyalties come together. We should see the exercise as an effort to engage, not with a mind to conversion but to conversation. Maybe we need time to explore each other as fellow-humans first. Only when we’ve overcome that hurdle, low as it is,  can we hope to see signs of changed thinking. it’s only when this acceptance of each other’s humanity has been fully realised that we’ll be capable of moving to the next step and opening ourselves to possible change in our thinking.

First heart; long pause; then head. It’s a maddeningly slow process but we have no choice but to start with handshakes and talk about the weather. Only when that’s firmly in place will we  perhaps have the confidence to open our minds.

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Reparations, pensions and victims: learning from history


marie Coleman

By Dr Marie Coleman

Queen’s University Belfast




As a historian I am intrigued by whether we are able to learn from history.  And as an Irish historian, I wonder if they are parallels from earlier periods in Irish history.


Reparation is a popular demand of victims.  Kathryn Stone’s suggestion that victims be given a pension is already proving controversial, as was the proposal for a one-off payment in the Eames-Bradley report.  But it worked once before.

army pension

A comprehensive system of compensation was introduced by the government of the Irish Free State after independence in 1922 to make provision for those who participated in or were affected by the earlier Irish troubles.  What can we learn from this Irish example?

army pension what

In 1923 the Free State Government introduced an Army Pensions Act, the ostensible aim of which was to provide disability pensions for soldiers from the Irish National Army who were wounded during the Civil War against the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army in 1922-23.  Pensions were also payable to members of the revolutionary organisations who had received wounds as a result of their actions between 1916 and 1922.  Allowances and gratuities were available to the ‘widow, children, dependants and partial dependants’ of any soldier who was killed in action during the Civil War, or died as a result of wounds received in that conflict up to three years afterwards.


The Army Pensions Act was accompanied by service pensions for members of the revolutionary organisations; compensation for ex-policemen from the Royal Irish Constabulary who resigned during the War of Independence because of opposition to the actions of the Crown forces in Ireland; pensions and gratuities paid to the former members of the Connaught Rangers regiment of the British Army who had mutinied in India in 1920 on similar grounds; and civil list pensions for the widows and dependants of prominent revolutionaries, such as Maud Griffith, the widow of Sinn Féin founder, Arthur Griffith, who left behind two young children when he died of a brain haemorrhage in August 1922.


This represents the most comprehensive system of monetary compensation in the wake of political violence in modern Irish history and many of the difficulties which it encountered could serve as a useful lesson for those tasked with introducing some form of such compensation in Northern Ireland.

british war pension


The first and most important task was to set out clearly the eligibility criteria.  The second problem was how to quantify, prove and ultimately put a price on gradations of injury.  This was solved by relying closely on the level of pension awarded to British soldiers in receipt of disability pensions for injuries sustained during the First World War (the loss of two or more limbs was considered to merit a one hundred per cent pension payment, while at the lowest end of the scale the loss of two fingers on either hand was equivalent to twenty per cent of a full pension payment).


The Army Pensions Act related solely to physical disablement.  The proposals of the Victims’ Commission will need to be very clear on how mental and psychological injury comes within the definition of a serious injury.  The legislation and regulations governing the Irish army pensions also applied a limited timeframe to the period in which the disability was incurred.  In the same way that emphasis on physical wounds did not allow for psychological damage, this restriction made little provision for either mental or physical illness suffered in later life as a direct result of the circumstances of the revolution.


It is also worth noting that these pensions were introduced immediately after the revolution so evidence from medical practitioners who treated the injured at the time and their medical records were easily available.  In the case of Northern Ireland today, the pensions proposed will be paid for injuries sustained largely in a period from forty-five to sixteen years ago.  Before deciding how applications will be judged, those charged with designing the scheme will need to decide where the burden of proof lies, how it is to be adjudicated upon, what evidence will be relied upon and whether that evidence is extant.  The lapse of time also raises the issue of how the award of a pension might impact upon other state benefits that those injured during the Troubles might currently be in receipt of.


Dissatisfaction with the Irish revolutionary pension process stemmed from those who were either denied pensions or awarded pensions that they did not feel represented adequate compensation.  The proposed pension system in Northern Ireland will face similar criticism from disappointed applicants.  However, this could be minimised if the issues of eligibility, burden of proof and evidence referred to above are set out explicitly from the beginning.



If such issues are not addressed clearly and in detail in any proposed pension scheme it could serve to exacerbate the problematic legacy of the Troubles rather than to provide solace for victims and survivors.



Dr Marie Coleman is a lecturer in the School of History and Anthropology and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University Belfast.

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Peace Building: The Optimum Risk



By Glenn J.  Bradley



Most great business leaders will tell you that their job role has always been where they strive to make the impossible elegantly probable by a tenacious focus that creates a result.


I have dreams for my homeland, and I know many share that same vision of ethnic & religious diversity where peoples are free from exploitation and discrimination co-habiting in conditions of freedom, security and equity.


My professional life experience which began all those years ago as a 16 year old Junior Leader in HM Army knows that true leadership is about doing the work now that will deliver our dreams later.  As an individual, Political Party, NGO or one of the many Society Institutions, one cannot procrastinate about creating stability, investment or the normalization from conflict.

No doubt doing something different can be un-nerving and challenging. Breaking a cycle from inherited systems or beliefs or ideologies can be terrifying but like ships, people, are not designed to sit in safe harbours. The mind of a human is always best energized when it is making a positive difference to the self or other people or the environment we live.

right direction

As a businessman I know that luck seldom plays a part in success. Focus, patience and practice are what deliver results. Great achievement only ever comes from great sacrifice and so looking to our dreams and vision for here we must choose to accept the risk involved to support reconciliation and the delivery of a lasting peaceful, democratic society so many of our population strive for.

That risk involves meeting, listening and learning from people whose rearing would be different to our own; whose political ideology would be different to our own; whose religion would be different to our own & whose aspirations would be different to our own.

non violence

That risk involves facing people who may have completed violent acts in the past but who are, this day, evolving to be peace architects as they strive to remove the gun from Politics on this small island. That risk includes learning the ability of sophisticated debate, and winning those debates through power of persuasion without a threat of or use of violence.


People in these meetings will speak and they will disagree but importantly they’re communicating and listening. Respectful communication, particularly in our post conflict society, is a truly essential and awe-inspiring positive trait that builds trust. This is because real respect makes no demands, hears all suggestions and is open to learning. Importantly real respect is flexible to change. Beautiful visions can be created from such real respect and trust.


In closing, I’m asking that all of us be open to others, listening, placing ourselves in one another’s shoes. Renouncing violence and in a spirit of generosity or forgiveness let us all believe that good things are possible, now.

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Govern In The Interest Of All Or Don’t Govern At All

Paul Hagan-Rea

By Paul Hagan-Rea

Gay Rights Activist & Political Commentator



With three years of elections ahead of us, the old parties on both sides have taken once more to the shovel and begun digging in for a long period of sectarian entrenchment. The tribal drums have been beaten to rally the narrow minded once more for a battle of “them against us ”. We have seen his already with the collapse of the Haass Talks,  the £300,000 spent a week on policing Twaddell  Avenue, Republican parades commemorating dead IRA volunteers , the “on the runs” pantomime and welfare reform to name a few.


In business a company that fails to understand the current economic climate that it operates in will fail to make a profit and will eventually close its doors. Many of our politicians fail to understand the current socio- political environment that Northern Ireland / North of Ireland now operates in. With Sinn Fein unable to utter the words Northern Ireland in a sentence and some in the DUP unable to admit the flag protests are damaging to brand Northern Ireland.   What hope of a better future do the people of both sides of the community have with politicians that to not understand or accept the current reality that we now live in.

the folks who live on the hill

The majority of people from both communities are well ahead of  ‘The Folks Who Live on the Hill’ – living, working and enjoying the new society that the Good Friday Agreement has provided. The people understand that Northern Ireland/ North of Ireland is a unique political region; legally we are part of the United Kingdom, culturally we are similar to those in Republic of Ireland and Scotland. Yet there are many differences that make us distinctive from anywhere else


The  vast majority of people understand that nether national government  (behind closed doors) really want us because of the hassle caused by a minority in both communities and added to this we are an expensive bunch of people to keep, with the London Exchequer giving us approximately £10 billion last year.  The southern government would have nightmares at the very thought of footing the bill for Northern Irelands welfare bill.


A younger generation has now developed that does not identify with the sectarian politics that previous generations forged out of bitterness and hatred. They live in a shared society that was created not by Stormont but by them in spite of Stormont. It was done without grants or government policies. But rather it was built by the understanding that we have to live with each other in this tiny region of edge western Europe. These people are not being served by the current old guard in Stormont who seem only willing to serve needs of the political extremists and religious fundamentalists on both sides. We have seen the UUP and DUP support for the flag protestors in Belfast  and lest we forget Sinn Fein’s support of the Irish Volunteers march through Castlederg.  Indeed it is justified comment that many of our politicians elected and charged with helping us to learn to live together have done more to drive us apart – shame; shame on them.

your vote is your voice

What we are building here has never been done before. We have no guidelines or expertise to draw on. Many may view this as a problem or as a disadvantage. However this actually offers us an opportunity. Those elected on the Hill must think outside the box and develop ideas and policies which are innovative in order to create a better place for both communities. The Assembly can only truly provide a better future when all parties recognise that they must govern in the interest of all or not govern at all. And we, the people, have our part to play as well. It behoves us to vote for parties and individuals who will create a new society free from rancour and division. To not vote is to acquiesce in the status quo – you should use your vote and use it wisely.

Perhaps those wishing to stand in the upcoming elections should perhaps reflect on the words of the historian Nathaniel Philbrick. His book Mayflower tells the story of the 1620 colony founded in  Massachusetts and the hardships they endured building a new community ;

“The moment any of them gave up on the difficult work of living with their neighbours–and all of the compromise, frustration, and delay that inevitably entailed–they risked losing everything.”


The vast majority of people living in rural areas of Northern Ireland already know this lesson well. It is virtually impossible to live out in the country without co –dependence.

While the many in the old guard focusses its efforts of on issues aimed at adding fuel to the sectarian flame in the hope that it will gain votes. Such as what colour of fabric hangs on a pole and for how long it should hang there for. Meanwhile our health service is under pressure  and  crumbling, our elderly have to decide each winter whether to heat or eat and the unemployment rate among  18-24 year olds around 22.5%. Now more than ever our society requires leaders not mouth pieces of the mob. Napoleon once said  “a leader is a dealer in hope” and that is what our politicians must now offer all of us, not just a selected few.


And just to drive the point home. Our politicians are not the only people that have a responsibility to deliver to a better place for everyone.  The new generation of voters  that peacefully live and work together have a vital role to play. Sitting back and allowing  54.5% of voters to decide for the 100% has shown us that it does not produce an effective assembly that delivers for everyone. We must all go to the ballot box and vote for candidates that we believe can work together and deliver a more prosperous, all-inclusive future instead off candidates that priority seems to be to prop up sectarian divisions by shunning compromise and respect.

Henry Ford understood the environment that his business operated in and used this understanding with innovation created a successful company with a legacy that has lasted 111 years . If we want to build a positive inclusive legacy here in Northern Ireland we should draw inspiration from his words :


“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

-Henry Ford



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Is justice blind or one-eyed?


By Professor John Brewer

Queen’s University Belfast


agree the future


Learning to live together after conflict is not just about developing a shared future; it is about dealing with the legacy of the past as well. This does not require we agree the past. In the same way, learning to live together is not about agreeing the future. Peace does not mean the break-out of agreement; it means finding non-violent ways of dealing with continued disagreement. So it is not necessary to agree what a shared future will be – only to agree that the future will be shared. So it is with the past. We do not have to agree the past; we only need to agree to use it as the foundation stone to build a better future.



Justice is one of the key principles on which to build a better future. Not the only one – there is also the need for fairness, equality of opportunity, hope, social betterment, and the alleviation of human need and want – but justice is amongst the capstones. But justice is backward looking as much as forward looking; it is about dealing with past injustices as well as improving justice in the future.

mistakes of the past


But inasmuch as justice is about the past as well as the future, justice is much broader than merely its criminal applications. Justice is not just about prosecuting past wrongs; it is about ensuring that past wrongs are not repeated. And the wrongs that need to be avoided are not only criminal acts; they are all previous social, political, cultural and economic practices which ended up in people being treated unfairly, unjustly, and without regard to their common dignity as human beings.


In this respect justice is truly blind. All people are of equal worth. All people have equal dignity. All people should be treated fairly. All people deserve equal justice. No one is above the law and no one deserves less justice than another.


But justice can also be one-eyed.  Justice is one-eyed when only some people’s rights to justice are accorded privilege, or when some people’s injustices get attention and other’s forgotten.

one eyed


Justice is one-eyed when we pursue only some people’s past wrongs, or only some kinds of past wrongs and not other kinds of past wrongs. Justice has to be truly blind, in the sense of universally applied, if it is to be the capstone for a better future. One-eyed justice ends up with an unjust form of justice, for it ends up pursuing past wrongs partisanly. When it is one-eyed justice is no basis on which to build a better future; it is merely a way to use the past selectively.


All past wrongs by everyone need to be pursued equally without favour, going wherever the evidence takes you (and in some cases, of course, it will not take you to criminal prosecutions because the evidence is not there). Justice is one-eyed if it is not applied fairly and we focus, say, on Loyalist wrongs rather than Republican ones, or on paramilitary ones rather than security force ones.


So if we want justice to be the capstone of a better future, we need to ask ourselves, is it being applied fairly, universally, blindly and without favour, when it is applied selectively to only certain wrong doers or to only certain wrongs?

gerry adams


The arrest and release of Gerry Adams, of course, brings this question to the fore and we heard a great deal during his arrest about the legal principle of the rule of law. The fair – meaning the blind – application of justice is actually a moral principal more than a legal one. Morality is undermined when justice is one-eyed rather than blind. And the different reactions to Adams’s arrest confirmed me in the view that we have a moral rather than a political problem in Northern Ireland.


Distorted politics is driven by distorted moral frameworks, not the other way round. It is unseemly for politicians to jump on bandwagons and breach support for universal moral principles for the sake of electioneering; it is worse knowing that by so doing they will get votes.

jean mcconville


It is a moral problem when under the principle of blind justice we pursue Gerry Adams for Jean McConville’s murder but not the Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy or the perpetrators of the Le Mon bombing or Darkley shootings? Which set of relatives feels justice is blind or is one-eyed?  Can we even remember the name of the mother of eight children murdered in the Ballymurphy shootings (Joan Connolly) or the victims of La Mon or Darkley? Why some victims, then, and not others? Why some perpetrators and not others? What public attention has been given to the Attorney General’s call for a public enquiry into allegations of a conspiracy in 18 UVF murders? How selectively are we treating the proven evidence of state collusion against the evidence of Adam’s alleged involvement in Jean McConville’s murder?


Serious questions need to be posed about our moral framework when justice becomes one-eyed like this.

justice for all


That justice is blind is a wonderful principle on which to build a better future, but only if it is truly blind. All people victimised deserve justice, without distinction or favour, or no one does. All injustices or wrongs in the past need to be pursued equally or none. For if only some receive justice, and only certain wrongs are pursued, justice is one-eyed. And when justice is itself unjust, morality is undermined. Justice that is not truly blind is no justice at all.




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The Story of my Family: And How We Might Move Forward

ann travers

By Ann Travers

Victims Campaigner



the troubles

In April 1984, my family’s lives were to change for ever, no longer would we just have lived through the “troubles” but we would join 1000′s of others and become a statistic. My private, innocent, big sister would have her name in “Lost lives”; my father would write a letter to the Irish Times speaking lovingly about her; journalists would question if collusion was involved in her murder and the attempted murder of our parents and I would end up having to do countless interviews from 2011 to get politicians to be mindful of how their language and actions can cause re traumatisation. How I wish we just “lived through the troubles”.

first communion

On the 8th April 1984 my beautiful 23 year old sister Mary was walking home from Mass with our parents. They were so happy that day, the sun was shining on a crisp Spring day, Mary full of chat about what hymns she was singing with her P3 class of boys who were making their first confession in preparation for making their first holy communion in a few weeks. This was Mary’s first teaching job, she had graduated from St Mary’s teacher training college the previous July, she was full of enthusiasm and love for those little 7 year old boys from Holy Child, Andersonstown.

They were approximately 200 yards from our home when all that joy and enthusiasm was to be cruelly wiped away. My mum turned to my Dad and said “doesn’t Mary look beautiful?” Full of pride and love, Mary turned to Mum, smiling and holding up the collar of her new blouse “Do you like it Mum?” With that they heard a gunshot, they stopped walking and turned around, Dad stepped slightly into the entrance of Windsor Tennis Courts, he saw a man walking towards him, whom he described as having a “wild look” in his eyes. “What do you want?” he asked him. “It’s you that we want,” came the reply. Simultaneously Mary, who at this stage was standing on the outside of the path, said “Daddy, that man has a gun”, with that a single shot was fired at her back and she fell into our Mother’s arms, knocking mum onto the ground. Simultaneously the first gunman started to shoot my Dad. Dad fell to the ground and the gunman stood over him and at close range shot him 6 times throughout his body. As Mary lay dying on Mum’s chest, the 2nd gunman walked over to Mum and place the gun to her temple. He fired the gun twice but both times the bullets jammed in the gun. Somebody was looking after Mum that day.

The gunmen ran down an ally way and passed their guns and wigs to a young woman who was waiting for them. She stuffed them down her surgical stockings. She was arrested along the Malone Road after a witness had told police what he saw.

In the meantime, my brother Paul came running into my bedroom and told me to go quick, “mum, dad and Mary have been shot”. I was 14, but felt like I was 4 as I ran down our drive and out onto Windsor Avenue, I came across a dreadful scene. Mum kneeling beside Dad “my husband, my husband, somebody please help my poor husband.” Dad was conscious and trying to take his watch off. Mary was lying awkwardly, her head facing the wrong way, gurgling on the dirty gravel. Then it was mayhem consisting of  ambulances, police, UDR, priest giving last rites, people – it was bedlam. All of our lives changed forever that day…..

the queen

Ironically on the 8th April 2014, on Mary’s 30th anniversary of her death, during the President Higgins state visit to the UK, Her Majesty The Queen, the lady who had appointed my father to the bench, also entertained The Deputy First Minister and one time IRA Commander Martin McGuinness. Many discussions have come and gone, should he have been there, how did the Queen feel, how did Republicans feel, how victims of the IRA feel who were literally left out in the cold – protesting outside of Windsor Castle.


So how can we move forward, just how do we live together in this place, respecting each other’s differences, not agreeing all of the time but agreeing that that is ok, respecting each other, no name calling and no whataboutery . Trust, acknowledgement, no justification for any murder, and for many knowing the truth around their loved ones murder, no more second guessing or rumour and justice. There are those who don’t want any of that, they just want to keep themselves to themselves and get on with life, that’s fine but don’t attack those who have found their voice and fight hard for their loved ones who no longer have their voices. Personally I find it difficult to trust anyone who when asked “would they do it all again” their reply is “If I had to yes.” For many victims that reads “we would murder your family again.”

learn to trust

Time is great for lessening the realities of our past, but not for those who experienced it, who became “statistics”. As each year moves on, I miss my big sister even more. I was diagnosed with aggressive Breast Cancer in 2012, I missed not having her with me during my treatment, not sharing that cup of coffee, not having her help me pick out my wig or advising me what colour of head scarf suited. I miss her not holding my hand and giving me that impish smile. I want to have closure; I want this place to be a fantastic place to live; I want to not be suspicious of people’s motives but how can I trust people who say they would “do it all again”. How can I trust a government who isn’t open and transparent, who supported “side deals” and who we have learnt supported collusion? Nobody had the right to take any life; nobody had the right to play God and decide who lived and who died. If those who were responsible for the murder and destruction were willing to stand up, stretch out and say “All murder was wrong, none was justifiable, we should have talked sooner and if we could turn the clock back we wouldn’t do it all again” just maybe, I and others would cautiously also stretch out and that step closer of trust would be made…..


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World War One and Political Divisions

From the Editors. Learning to live together is as much about how we deal with the past and divided memories as it is about our vision of the future and the ways to get there. Transcending divided memories, searching for joint remembrances, and re-remembering some of the ways in which we can learn to live together. In this decade of commemorations, the following is an example of how the past can be used positively to enable us to learn to live together. This post is being co hosted by the Belfast Media Group/  Andersonstown News).




 “Nationalism is the worst of all human diseases Albert Einstein

 joe doherty

By Joe Doherty

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Ex-POW Consortium

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I remember as a small boy my maternal grandfather Alex Darragh telling me of distant memories of bloody trench warfare, the smell and stench of dead bodies, eating raw horse meat and the constant barrage of cannon fire. I would sit with my mouth open listening to the graphic and sometime troubled images of what he went through as a young man. And to this day I can still remember that 1000 yard stare. Of course in my infant naivety I always thought he was talking about WW2 and was thinking of those John Wayne and John Mill’s films on TV and in the cinemas. There wasn’t much by way of films about World War One.

world war 1

Granddad Alex’s own father, too, Alexander Senior, my great grandfather, had been a career soldier in the Royal Irish Rifles and thus young Alex joined the same regiment. Of course it was in part the poverty of those days that drew my grandfather and many of that generation into the British army. But Irish men had always been somehow caught up with the Imperial army including making up half of the Duke of Wellington troops at the Battle of Waterloo and at the height of Rule Britannia two thirds of the British navy were Irish conscripts.

connacht rangers

One hundred years ago Irish nationalist leaders including John Redmond and the charismatic nationalist West Belfast MP Joe Devlin were encouraging thousands of young nationalists to fight for other reasons including King and Ireland and the promise of Home Rule and of course the folly notion that the Protestant Germans were invading Catholic Belgium. And by the thousands nationalists marched off to France.

Returning from France my grandfather joined the Irish Republican Army and fought in the 1919-22 Irish War of Independence. And this indeed was a source of open pride and tribute to our republican war veteran grandfather.  I even got the opportunity in holding his precious and esteemed War of independence IRA medals and our family still have his Oglaigh Na H-Eireann war pension book from the Irish government.

firing squad

But not much was spoken of his involvement in the British Army and his venture into war for King and country. And although Granddad Alex great uncle Daniel Darragh, an IRB Fenian, was taken to London and hanged in Milbank prison at the edge of the Thames River in 1867, Granddad Darragh’s involvement in the European war on behalf of the King was always a source of discontentment or bemusement. My granny Barnicle, even after his heroic involvement in the war against the British Army in 1919, often gave him spouse abuse about his involvement in the British Army. Granny Barnicle had strong republican credentials and, while Granddad Darragh was adorning the Imperial uniform, was in Belfast when Pearse and Connolly were marched to the front of British firing squads in 1916.

lest we forget

I guess like most nationalist families we were resigned to put that historical event behind us and relegated those material memories to a shoe box in the attic. The unionist celebrations and commemorations of Poppy Day and Remembrance Day put most nationalist off from reflecting on the events of WW1 and the bloody participation of many of our own fathers and grandfathers. While many may have wanted to reflect and understand the historical involvement and sacrifices Irish nationalists see dangers of somehow celebrating an imperial event rather than a mass slaughter of many of a past generation.


But I think it is important for nationalists to understand and reflect, and indeed to be involved in some centenary commemorations. We need at least to be open to be understanding of that event in Irish history. I think it would be fair to say that a majority of the chattering masses within the nationalist community do not recognize the fact that over 200,000 Irishmen had fought in the First World War and over 49,000 were killed. And indeed the majority of those who fought and died were Irish nationalists.

36th Ulster

World War One showed the human impact of the war on the island of Ireland.  And that this human impact affected both Irish Nationalist and Irish Unionist families.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that war that took the lives of some 10 million young men across Europe and beyond. For some reason I have taken a keen interest in that war to understand my granddad and great granddad own involvement and have sought out official information and knowledge of how this horror had taken place and the extent it had on Ireland.

On Visiting the Warring Street Royal Irish Rifles museum in Belfast I found out that my granddad had 2 campaign medals and even a British war pension which he had chosen to not accept. On looking for additional information I found that most of the records were destroyed during the WW2 bombings in London. I was strangely attempting to retrieve his British war medals for his two surviving sons Alex and Billy and daughter Ann. So my research was much limited.


Being an Irish republican and an anti imperialist I found myself wondering why I had this almost enthusiastic interest about this war fought over by the self-indulgence of National Governments and Royal Households that conscripted millions of working class young men against each other in bloody trench warfare.

But I thought it incumbent upon me to search out why so many Irishmen, unionist and nationalist, marched through places like the Shankill and Fall’s roads to fight and die in the fields of France. And indeed from townships all over Ireland young men adorned the uniform of the Imperial army and marched to war.

This European event had also steered a course for Irish politics. This European Imperial War had established not only a more separatist mindset among nationalists but had also paved the way towards separatism in the north east and the eventual partition of Ireland.

irish world war

This centennial year of the so called Great War is or should be a pivotal time of reflection and remembrance for those past generations who fought in the mud and the almost 50.000 young Irish men of all traditional backgrounds who did not come home.

The Coiste Exp Consortium has organized an event at the Duncairn Centre for Arts and Culture on the 7th of May at 7.00pm involving extensive presentations by noted historians Philip Orr and Sean Ó Hare on the establishment of both the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division. And of course to understand and challenge each other to why so many young men had served and died in some far off lands.

We owe it to them.

Joe Doherty




Venue of event.

Duncairn Centre for Arts and culture

174 trust Complex

Antrim Road

Contact Joe Doherty for further information. 90-200770



World War One: Political Divisions

The Ulster Davison and the Sixth Connaught rangers


Over 200,000 Irishmen fought in the First World War and over 49,000 were killed showed the human impact of the war on the island of Ireland. This year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that war.

It is somehow taken for granted that those who fought and died were by unionist. Of course it is often celebrated and commemorated among unionist. But most of those who served and were killed were Irish nationalists. 

On this centenary anniversary we see this event as an opportunity for all to reflect and understand the complexities and politics of the participation of both Irish nationalists and Irish unionist in this war.  


 While most Irish unionists joined the 36th Ulster Division many Irish nationalist joined the 16th Irish Division.

The 36th (Ulster) Division.

The 36th Ulster Division was formed in September 1914 to create a home for men of the Ulster Volunteer Force. Although not everyone who joined was an Ulster Volunteer the ethos was deeply Unionist. In July 1916 the division fought and died in great numbers at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme.

The memory of this slaughter came to have deep significance for Unionists in the new Northern Ireland state, symbolising loyalty to Britain and standing in contrast to the Easter Rebellion which had taken place in Dublin just a few weeks before the Somme campaign began. Remembering the 36th Division’s exploits is still seen as important today by many Ulster Protestants.

Philip Orr, WW1 historian will give a presentation on the birth of the Ulster Division and the political circumstances around that period.

The 16th Irish Division and the Sixth Connaught Rangers

The 6th Connaught Rangers was a unique battalion of the British Army made up mainly of members of the Irish National Volunteers from the Falls Rd and other Catholic areas of Belfast. They went to the front in W.W.1 at the behest of their local M.P the charismatic Joe Devlin of the Irish Parliamentary Party. They were confident that Home Rule would be granted at the end of the war which most people then believed would be “over by Christmas”.

So in gratitude to the Westminster Government and in defence of Catholic Belgium they went off to war. The suffered heavy casualties and on their return found an entirely different political situation in Ireland especially in their own area. There were no flags or banners to welcome them as they slipped quietly home. Their story was to disappear from the memory of both communities in Belfast.

Sean O Hare, author of the Sixth Connaught Rangers will give a presentation on the events surrounding involvement of so many northern nationalists in the Connaught Rangers.

World War One and Political Divisions

The 36th Ulster Division and the 6th Connaught Rangers.


7.00pm to 9.00pm. May 7th 2014

Duncairn Centre for Arts & Culture (174 Trust Complex Antrim Road.)


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