Can an Official Government Account of Northern Ireland's Troubles be Credible?Breaking News
tags: IRA, Northern Ireland, Irish history, Troubles, Ulster
How to present and control historical accounts raises crucial questions about personal experiences, privileged access to records and contemporary political agendas. There was much coverage last week of a suggestion the British government is considering commissioning an “official” history of the Troubles, referred to vaguely in a statement by a UK government spokesman as possibly part of “a package of measures to deal with the legacy of the Troubles that focuses on information recovery, so that families can know what happened to their loved ones, and promotes reconciliation”.
But under what terms could such a commissioned history have any credibility? Is it not just a diversion from awkward questions around amnesties and demands for inquiries and accountability that have been continually thwarted by the British government in response to repeated requests by families and indeed, the Irish Government? What records would be accessible and by whom? And if it is privileged access how can that history be transparent or properly peer reviewed? It is a myth, of course, that history writing, official or otherwise, can be entirely “neutral”, or that archives contain all the answers to difficult questions, but for a British government to sponsor a project along the lines reported would suggest an embarrassing level of self-interest at a fraught time.
In 2014, the Stormont House Agreement stated: “The Executive will, by 2016, establish an Oral History Archive to provide a central place for people from all backgrounds (and from throughout the UK and Ireland) to share experiences and narratives related to the Troubles . . . A research project will be established as part of the Archive, led by academics to produce a factual historical timeline and statistical analysis of the Troubles, to report within 12 months”. That, to my eye, reads differently from the idea of an “official” history, so what has changed and what agendas are at play now?
Many students of the 1913-21 period now use the statements of the Bureau of Military History; they are not definitive or wholly reliable and form just part of an extensive release of sensitive material into the public domain in recent years to enable us to confront some of the issues and legacies of that period, including violence and its impact.
Arranging for those affected by the more recent Troubles to record their experiences would be a similarly worthy endeavour, but alongside that, what is needed is not “official” history, but a decision to properly open sensitive archival material to facilitate the writing of evidence-based history. The political will to facilitate that is highly unlikely to materialise.
comments powered by Disqus
- The Debt Ceiling Law is now a Tool of Partisan Political Power; Abolish It
- Amitai Etzioni, Theorist of Communitarianism, Dies at 94
- Kagan, Sotomayor Join SCOTUS Cons in Sticking it to Unions
- New Evidence: Rehnquist Pretty Much OK with Plessy v. Ferguson
- Ohio Unions Link Academic Freedom and the Freedom to Strike
- First Round of Obama Administration Oral Histories Focus on Political Fault Lines and Policy Tradeoffs
- The Tulsa Race Massacre was an Attack on Black People; Rebuilding Policies were an Attack on Black Wealth
- British Universities are Researching Ties to Slavery. Conservative Alumni Say "Enough"
- Martha Hodes Reconstructs Her Memory of a 1970 Hijacking
- Jeremi Suri: Texas Higher Ed Conflict "Doesn't Have to Be This Way"
- New transcript of Ayn Rand at West Point in 1974 shows she claimed “savage" Indians had no right to live here just because they were born here
- The Mexican War Suggests Ukraine May End Up Conceding Crimea. World War I Suggests the Price May Be Tragic if it Doesn't
- The Vietnam War Crimes You Never Heard Of