As I write this only the very early reports of the political deal reached in Belfast are publicly available and what aspects have been put into circulation are sparse on detail.
However one feature of the reported agreement on dealing with the past jumped out at me: a proposed oral history archive. The Irish Times initially reported it but then dropped it for no apparent reason; but Reuters have reported it thus:
It (the deal) also sets a framework for dealing with the “corrosive legacy of the past”, as (Irish Foreign Minister) Flanagan put it. This would include an oral history archive and a dedicated unit to investigate deaths during the Northern Irish conflict.
It took me more than a moment to recover from the shock. My first thought was ‘what a staggering piece of hypocritical cheek by the powers-that-be’, stealing an idea from the Boston College archive on one hand while trying to imprison people with it on the other!
The second thought, or rather a number of questions, was, if anything, more alarming. If an oral history archive is to be created who will control it and who will run it?
I ask these questions not just because I have a suspicious mind, which I do, but because there is no way that one of the parties to this agreement, in particular, would have put their hand to this deal unless they thought that somehow they could control the archive, decide who would give testimony to it, what questions would be asked and ground covered – or not covered – and by so doing therefore determine how history will judge their and their leaders’ contribution – or lack of it – to the Troubles.
If this archive is constructed it will be an important tool for future historians and in the case of the party I refer to in the preceding paragraph it will probably be the only archive extant in the future – thanks to the efforts of the PSNI and the US Department of Justice.
As most of my readers will have guessed by now, I am talking about Sinn Fein. They are not the only control freaks in the Northern Ireland political firmament – the DUP could run them a close second – but in their determination to mould an alternative version of their leaders’ careers and life stories they are in a league of their own.
The party’s apparatchiks would be less than human if they hadn’t viewed this part of the deal with absolute rapture. Not only is the Boston College archive likely to be relegated to the sidelines but a heaven-sent opportunity has been produced to create an archive that will be Sinn Fein-friendly, blessed by the peace process and approved by all the governments.
Which is why this proposal must be judged on the detail. If an oral history archive is to be established – and let the record show not only that I favour such a project but that this idea was first proposed, at my suggestion, to the Eames-Bradley commission by Boston College some years ago – then it is absolutely vital not only that it be completely independent but that it be seen to be completely independent.
If any of the political parties at Stormont – and I mean any – have any sort of control or influence over the archive then it will be not just a useless exercise; it will, I will wager, be fraudulent, disingenuous and mendacious.
Only an honest oral history archive, free of interference, will do, one that an American judge, for example, could read and proclaim to be ‘a bona fide academic exercise of considerable intellectual merit’.
Anything less would be unacceptable.
- A note to ‘sherdyme’, or Paul Larkin, or Paul Larkin Coyle or Paul Coyle Larkin or whatever you are calling yourself nowadays: no matter how many comments you send they will never, ever appear on this blog. Okay?