Friday, January 30, 2009

For those who thought that Iraq would be over soon...

... there is a chilling reminder of how long and how deep the feelings can last.

Now I admit that until now I have taken the "peace" in Northern Ireland as an optimistic example of what can be achieved. This, however, must dampen the enthusiasm somewhat -
A new Northern Ireland reconciliation plan that gives the families of slain innocents and killers the same "recognition" payment provoked fury Wednesday from Protestants victimized by decades of IRA attacks.

Protestant hard-liners disrupted a Belfast press conference called to unveil - and sell to a sceptical public - the 18-month efforts of former Anglican Archbishop Robin Eames and former Catholic priest Denis Bradley.

As they prepared to speak, Protestant hard-liners jumped up from the crowd to hurl insults and condemnations - both at the two men and other audience members linked to the outlawed Irish Republican Army. The hecklers included men and women who lost relatives or were maimed in IRA attacks.

"My brother was an innocent man defending this whole community," said one protester, Hazlett Lynch, whose policeman brother was killed in a 1977 IRA ambush. "When IRA men died while launching cowardly attacks on this community, they actually received justice. The families of those murderers should not be consoled with a single penny today."

Their fury focused on an Eames-Bradley commitment to paying the nearest relatives of all 3,700 dead from the conflict 12,000 British pounds (US$17,000) each. The two former churchmen insisted that all families who lost loved ones deserve equal support - but once the anger had ebbed, Eames offered a qualified apology.

"Maybe this gesture, for those outside of our group, is too sudden. Maybe we did make a mistake in our timing. ... If so, we apologize," Eames said.

But he and Bradley stressed that their 192-page report, containing more than 30 proposals, would require citizens to take painful new steps down the road to lasting peace.

The recommendations by the leaders of a British government-appointed panel, called the Consultative Group on the Past, call for Britain to transfer investigative powers to a new panel called the Legacy Commission. Different branches of this group would seek to encourage former IRA members and other militants to come clean about their past; shed light on bitterly disputed killings involving British security forces; and encourage a divided public to talk to each other behind closed doors. The commission's work would take five years and require funding of more than 300 million pounds.

The British and Irish governments offered a muted welcome for the report's contents - reflecting their recognition of the Protestant side's undying hatred for the IRA.

In London, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he understood why the idea of paying out flat-fee payments to relatives of the dead "has evoked such controversy in Northern Ireland."

"The government is obviously going to consider the report with great care," he said.

But First Minister Peter Robinson, the Protestant leader of Northern Ireland's 20-month-old coalition government with Catholics, said he had "no doubt that many innocent victims will feel betrayed."

Robinson said he would ensure that Brown and other British officials do "not insult the innocent victims of terrorism by giving any weight to these offensive recommendations."

There is a video here. I recommend it because it does (if it is the same as that shown on last night's late news) also include comment from one from the Catholic side.

What the British are considering might, and might not, help to further heal the woulds of a now 100 plus year old conflict.

The dampened enthusiasm must reflect upon the likely outcome for Iraq. Certainly the history of the relationship between Sunni and Shia there is little different in scope and duration from the Catholic - Protestant "troubles" in Ireland.


Dave Justus said...

What is 'chilling' about this? Obviously people who lost loved ones are going to be very emotional about them, and their will be disagreements about any sort of reconciliation process.

Despite that heavy emotional burden, they are NOT employing violence to get revenge and are at worst using harsh language and being disruptive. Even those people were a minority of the attendees as the report indicated.

I see this as wonderful progress and a great reason to hope that continued reconciliation in North Ireland will progress. To the extent that North Ireland and Iraq have any similarities (and I'm not sure how much they have) this strikes me as a reason to be very hopeful there as well.

The probligo said...

Dave, that is disappointingly shallow reasoning.

There are two things involved -

First there are as you point out the emotions of those on both sides (Protestant and Catholic; think Sunni and Shia) who have lost family members. No blame laid there, on my part at least.

Second is the fact that, twenty years after some of the events mentioned there is no forgiveness, no understanding, no retreat, no reconciliation. To the point also is that even 100 years after the first of the modern conflict between Protestant and Catholic (remember that it goes back some 200 yers and more) the original fears and prejudices remain as strong and irreconcilable as ever.

The parallel with Iraq?

Remember who the Ba'ath were (the Sunni)

Remember the Ba'ath suppression of the Shi'a peoples - promoted in the later neo-con revised history as the major reason for removing Sadaam?

An exact parallel to the discrimination and suppression of the Northern Catholics by the Protestants. What kind of control? That is a matter of easily accessible history.

Remember the American "invasion" of Iraq? Why were the British in Northern Ireland? Because they had invaded the place some many years previously, had colonised the place and taken over from the resident Catholics. Now the Americans did not try to colonise Iraq, but they have done more than enough damage to leave some very deep scars...

Why chilling?

Because that is going to be the legacy of Iraq.