Northern Ireland: Retrospective - Justice with Esteem
It was no great unexpected revelation at the Inquiry to hear Martin McGuinness say that he had been in a senior position in the Provisional IRA in Derry on Bloody Sunday there, in 1972.
Looking backwards to that event and to those of 1966-69 (Burntollet and Bombay Street attacks by Loyalist mobs) it is not hard to tease out the origins and the originators of the violence which eventually dominated the politics of Northern Ireland for thirty years.
The underlying community antagonisms, exacerbated by the institutionalised discrimination pervading the polity - while it may be understood in the light of the siege mentality of the majority population, was fundamentally undemocratic - frustrated all attempts to obtain redress, thereby making the situation fundamentally explosive.
As the state forces came down in support of the existing inbuilt bias, of the partisanly orientated structures, these were inevitably rejected by the minority community in favour of organised street protests.
Thus, in time honoured fashion, true also in many other parts of the world, they trailed their coats, challenging the state forces and their supporters to tread upon them.
Bloody Sunday was a clear example of this, and the military response, whereby fourteen apparently unarmed people died and many others were injured, was a key element in the surging recruitment to the Provisionals and resort to violence as the most suitable and effective way to achieve social change.
Long ingrained, deep, historically engendered prejudices, integrated into the social, economic and political structures, possess a stubborn inertia which is difficult to overcome so that change, however necessary or desirable, is slow to achieve without an outburst of direct action to set the wheels of progress in motion.
That is why the new structures, incorporated into society via the Good Friday (1998) Agreement, must not be allowed to wallow in the resurgence of the social attitudes which lay since 1920 like millstones upon both communities for seventy or eighty years.
As well as the continuing paramilitary punishments pervading both communities and the intermittent bombing in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain we have the residue of Orange protests because of the prohibition of parades down the Garvaghy Road in Portadown.
While all these events persist there is a growing discontent in the wider population and fear that the hopes and aspirations of the New Start, embodied in the Belfast Agreement, will disappear again into the maw of historic antagonisms.
The fault lines have reappeared, refurbished both by those who support and those who oppose he Agreement, as they approach the imminent Westminster General Election which is predicted for June 7.
The attitude shown by Unionist politicians, including First Minister Trimble, to the decision by the European Court of Human Rights on the way the deaths of Republican paramilitaries were investigated and that compensation should be paid to their families, is a reversion to pre-Agreement language.
The Court did not pronounce on the justification or otherwise of the killings but simply on the failure to thoroughly investigate the circumstances, on the ignoring of the possibility of concealed unlawful activities of state forces in the actions.
It is an important aspect, in my view, within the context of the history of the governance of Northern Ireland since the 1920 Act under which it operated, that the New Framework, set up under the Good Friday Accord, is intended to promote Parity of Esteem.
As a consequence, the Court’s decision should be accepted without appeal (which may not be possible anyway) for, in retrospect, in the spirit of the Belfast Agreement even in the case of death in conflict with state forces a full investigation should be carried out, with Parity of Esteem as a human right.
Finally, as the Assembly debates a motion on Tuesday 8 May (incidentally Victory in Europe 1945 Day) from Paisley’s party (DUP) to remove Martin McGuinness from office as Education Minister and we enter the Westminster electoral contest a pause for thought is imperative for the people both in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.
Thus, without condoning any paramilitary action Adams and McGuinness may have previously engaged in and from the vantage point of the 21st century we have a choice between looking back to their past and forward to their present role of leading the Republican Movement in the whole of Ireland, fully forward and fully involved in the democratic process made possible by the Good Friday Agreement April 10 1998, under the Labour Government and Prime Minister Blair in cooperation with Taoiseach Ahern.