Bob Mitchell makes a welcome return to the columns of thebrokenelbow.com with a sharp response to NI Secretary Theresa Villiers, who claimed in a speech yesterday, dedicated to the problem of dealing with the past, that there was a ‘pernicious’ narrative which blamed Britain for the Troubles:
Are some PSNI legacy investigations about to bear fruit?
In a speech at the Ulster University, Northern Ireland’s secretary of state said it was a misrepresentation to say that wrongdoing by the security forces during the troubles was ‘endemic’ and that ‘some people’ were pursuing a pernicious counter narrative of the past’.
Who said it was endemic?
What narrative of the past is being countered?
Could it be the bland elitist histories of the troubles produced by former army officers? Or is she referring to the ‘oral testimonies’ that relate the individual experiences of the common soldier?
The question of ‘what happened?’ has been fully recorded many times – from the excellent ‘Lost Lives’ that tries to account for the detail behind every single killing – to the meagre outline material in overviews of Op Banner produced by senior or elite soldiers. Personal accounts by more junior ranks are often more emotive, but rarely include insights into the context of their times.
Theresa Villiers acknowledges some members of the security forces behaviour “fell below the high standards required of them” and “where there is evidence of wrongdoing, it will be pursued”, but, she continues, “we need to be mindful of the context in which the security forces were operating.”
Where is the historical record of ‘context’ and on what evidence can it be based?
In part of her closing comments the Secretary of State introduced the now common conservative tactic of scaremongering: the government want to retain the power to prevent disclosure of some information on health and safety grounds to prevent action by ‘violent dissidents’ or ‘Islamist terrorists’. Islamist terrorists intervening on behalf of armed republicans? Now there is a new one!
The vast majority of controversial killings during the Troubles occurred in the early to mid 1970s – the government have had over 40 years to investigate whether there was evidence of wrongdoing and to ‘pursue’ the matter. Perhaps they do not read their own embargoed records.
Is it not therefore, legitimate, given the total lack of governmental progress, for others to enquire into controversial incidents that happened 41 years ago?
If, as she stated, there are a “large number of complex sensitive cases” that only concern a small minority of soldiers or policemen (given that the “vast majority carried out their duties with exemplary professionalism”), is it not the case that where research or journalistic enquiry focuses on this large number of complex cases, that they are also, by definition, not re-writing the limited narrative of the ‘vast majority’?
Clearly, while some investigations do appear to be in progress (and who knows, might be getting somewhere) there is scope for the revelation of some ‘context’.
Watch this space.