When it was first drawn to my attention that UTV’s The Issue would be hosting a panel discussion about the potentially limiting ramifications for the North’s already problematic legacy issue that have arisen from the Boston College oral history project, I thought it a good thing. There are serious issues about the past that need urgent attention and which will not be addressed by the recent Stormont House Agreement which amounted to little more than another spin on the Gerry-go-Round, where the starting line seems also to have been the finishing line: truth recovery is no further on.
Then I heard that Allison Morris would be on the panel and my initial welcome evaporated. Even setting aside her original alleged role as the unwitting instigator of the Boston College subpoena proceedings, it was impossible for me to overlook her most recent factually perverse coverage of matters pertaining to both Winston Rea, a loyalist who took part in the project, and Paddy Joe Rice, a republican who is on the public record as having had no involvement whatsoever.
Morris’s highly inaccurate coverage in respect of both men coupled to my view that she had made attempts – all of which came to nought - to use both the National Union of Journalists and a libel lawyer to suppress legitimate critique of her framing of the Boston College story, made me very wary. How any discussion - that purported to be serious, detached and balanced – could have someone with a large but unnamed dog in the fight sit on the panel, perplexed me. It was a misgiving compounded by the absence from the panel of anyone actually involved with the project and who could speak about it authoritatively.
If I had grave reservations my wife, a formidable foil to what she regards as Morris machinations, was furious. She immediately took to firing salvo upon salvo of alerts to UTV, informing the broadcasting company of the inherent unfairness of the seemingly injudicious editorial decision to include Morris on the panel. As it turned out Morris did appear but either restricted herself, or was restricted, to giving opinion on the problems of truth recovery and the past rather than lay out her “facts” of the history of the Boston College project. Her contention that the definition of a victim is a whatever you are having yourself characterisation - if you think you are one there you are one - did not strip her contribution of all merit. She did bring something worthwhile to the table.
The Issue last night was memorable as one of those rare examples of a panel discussion which did not slip into whataboutery and where each panellist contributed something to public understanding. UTV and Yvette Shapiro both deserve credit for their management of it. What did emerge from the discussion and which UTV succeeded in doing very well with so little time, compensated for by the adroit presentational skills of Shapiro, was convey the complexity and intractability of the past and its often strategically crafted imperviousness to truth recovery processes. It was impossible not to have watched it without some appreciation of the logic once articulated by a US academic about diametrically opposed positions each possessing “unassailable moral arguments, and anyone who does not understand how this is true, cannot understand the true nature of tragedy."