Posted By: April 03, 2015

Denis Bradley. Irish News ( Belfast). Friday, April 3, 2015 

RECENTLY I was at the end of a blast of frustration and anger. It was not directed
at me but at Peter[Robinson] and Mike[Nesbitt] and their respective unionist

It was a group of loyalists, many of them former members of paramilitary
organisations. The gripe was about being used when it suited Peter and Mike and
being dropped when the same two men wanted to show a pair of clean hands. I tried to
explain that it would ever be thus. It is ironic when the likes of me has to explain
to loyalists that the two unionist parties have based their political authority on
moral purity. Unlike the rest of us sinners, they have no responsibility for the
beginning, longevity or moral complexity of 'the Troubles'. They are as pure as the
driven snow. The Provos, the loyalists and a few rogue security members are to
blame. There is no history, no context and no hierarchy of responsibility. Goodies
and baddies and nothing in between. 

Different, of course, when there is a flag protest or a unionist forum or a
government. It is fine for Peter and Mike to share power, planes and salaries with
the former enemy but the loyalist combatants must mostly stay in the naughty corner
to ensure that the moral purity of unionism is preserved. 

There are hundreds of injured men and women whose lives could be improved by a small
pension but there are six or seven loyalist and republican combatants in the mix and
if they were to get a pension it would contaminate the moral purity of unionism. 

That moral purity is even threatened by the British definition of a victim and if
Peter and Mike have their way it shall be changed. 

In 2006 Westminster legislated for a description of a victim that is broad and would
embrace, for example, the family of an IRA member or a UVF man killed in the

Jeffrey Donaldson was the one sent out to lead the charge to get the definition
changed. He hasn't made the slightest dent but that hasn't stopped the DUP from
including it in their list of demands that they hope to negotiate with the next

If I were one of the Unionist victims who longs for the British to change that
definition, I would not be holding my breath. But the real tragedy is that the
refusal to accept the current definition of victim will lock us all into the past
for years to come. Just as the conflict could never have been resolved without
inclusive politics, so the past shall never be properly addressed without an
inclusive definition of a victim. 

A strong dose of moral purity was also detectable in the recent report into the 'on
the runs'. Ian Paisley jnr and Kate Hoey were the most vocal but there were no
dissenters from the placing of blame on the police, the civil servants, the Tony
Blair/Jonathan Powell axis for the mess that is the 'on the runs'. 

There was a lot of back-slapping and self-congratulation about exposing something
that was already exposed about 10 years ago. It was exposed when the British
government brought a bill to parliament and was blocked by most of the political
parties represented on the committee. In a hundred-page document there was not a
single recommendation to resolve the issue and there wasn't a single word of
self-criticism. Everyone was to blame except the politicians who have sat on the
Northern Ireland Affairs Committee down the years. Even though they have the
greatest stake and should have the greater insight, the report was a resolution-free

Moral purity is dogged and close to immutable. It builds its view of the world on
principle and righteousness and seldom questions or tests the authenticity or
universality of those principles. It is not of a mind to include a different
narrative and a contrary moral interpretation. If left to its own devices, unionism
is incapable of resolving our shared past. 

The reason there was a skeleton agreement last Christmas to set up institutions to
deal with the past is because the two governments were in the chair. If my friends
in loyalism are hoping for a fair and equal approach to addressing the legacy of the
past they should lobby hard that the two governments stay in the chair and that they
push past the purity of Peter and Mike.