Learn from our troubled past or we will repeat it

Posted By: December 28, 2017

Allison Morris.Irish News. Belfast. Thursday, December 28, 2017

As we enter the new year, most of us have resolutions, hopes, dreams, and ambitions for ourselves and our children for the next 12 months.

It can be a wonderful time of the year, full of joy and hope, but for some, it can be an agonizingly few week of painful remembrance and the realization that another year has passed without the person they love and miss.

In Ireland we talk a lot about the past, the philosopher George Santayana famously said: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

The partition of our island almost 100 years ago was a seismic event that changed the lives of all of us living here in what would become Northern Ireland.

What happened after that, the modern Troubles that shaped the direction of my life and that of many others, has conflicting explanations in history, depending on what side of the debate you’re coming from.

But being denied rights in the Northern Ireland of my parents and grandparents under a Unionist government for a Unionist people, and the impact that had on what was to come is something that no-one can change, deny or erase from history.

I have a glass-half-full attitude, what sprang from that terrible time led me to this desk, where I sit now, writing this column.

Journalists who invaded west Belfast in massive numbers in the 1970s and early 80s were almost all posh and plummy English men, and maybe the odd woman.

Some of the stories they filed to their various publications painted my community as savages, uncivilized and uneducated Irish rabble for whom they had no respect or regard. My mother seemed to have realized very early on that education would, in the long run, free her children from prejudice and discrimination, and would have walked us through riots and past burning buses to school. And so while I would never wish my childhood on my children nor their children, it shaped, pushed and drove me and many like me on.

However, I fear we are now repeating history and repeating the same mistakes.

Brexit stands to undo decades of hard work and the relations built between North and South, Unionist and Nationalist, Ireland and Britain seem to become more strained with every new negotiation, every politically divisive statement.

Unionist fear over their future within the United Kingdom is one that I fully understand. What I don’t understand is why politicians and civic leaders haven’t learned from the past and realized their future would be better secured by making Northern Ireland a happy and comfortable place for everyone.

This includes their nationalist neighbors, Irish speakers and members of the LGBT community.

The DUP’s new-found power in Westminster has until now been squandered on securing petty reassurances to ease insecurities about how British they are.

The power that could be better used and utilized forcing their Tory mates to hand over that £1 billion they promised.

Instead,  we have a political failure, an assembly that even before it went belly up in January, was failing to protect the rights of all citizens.

The Border looms large in a way that it hasn’t since it was a maze of watchtowers and closed roads.

Due to the abject failure to agree how to deal with the past in a timely fashion, we have an expensive and traumatic ad hoc system in place, with families seeking any kind of truth and recognition forced into lengthy litigation that only partially meets their needs.

The ruling by Mr. Justice McCloskey last week in relation to the Loughinisland ombudsman’s report is huge in terms of what it means for the future of victims and their families.

The disgraceful case of informer Gary Haggarty, a man who killed and committed almost daily crimes while in the pay of the intelligence services only to be given a reduced sentence and a new life, while those who directed him to get off free from scrutiny, seems incredible in any seemingly civil society.

This case, when taken alongside the ruling on Loughinisland, shows the hopeless situation victims find themselves in.

Former officers, whom it is accepted were responsible for handling a man who killed five people while in the employ of Special Branch, will never be prosecuted but a judge has ruled the ombudsman cannot conclude there was collusion unless someone is prosecuted.

These are massive issues that cannot be left in the past without proper redress. We must deal with the past and learn from it lest we are doomed, as George Santayana warned, to keep repeating it.