Well that was a Féile and a half!
Among everything else there are two reflections on debates that require further consideration and discussion.
Firstly – what are we as a community going to do with the horrific and moving testimony delivered by 16 families to the Relatives for Justice History of Collusion debate?
Do we attend and bear witness, as hundreds did last Tuesday, and then go home and maybe tell our family over a cup of tea or friends over a pint of the horror and trauma shared so courageously by the families in question? Or does it require something more? Surely if we bear witness, something more is demanded of us societally.
The second question is how we respond to the words spoken by George Hamilton?
In an extraordinary opening monologue the chief constable gave acknowledgement of pain and suffering of all communities. He stated that the police family is no different to the families who lost loved ones in the republican or loyalist communities. Essentially kicking the hierarchy of victims into touch. He stated that he would do all he could to meet the needs of victims and survivors. He committed to either publish the Stevens Report or if he couldn’t to explain why he could not.
He acknowledged the families who receive support in Relatives for Justice and their testimony as displayed on the Remembering Quilt. This was a personal act of acknowledgement and must be recognized in the context of no state actor having ever gone onto this ground. To my ears it was extraordinary, genuine, and heartfelt.
But there was something missing. Something that links RFJ’s collusion event and the debate with the Chief Constable. And raises further questions for us all. And that is the accountability gap when it comes to state wrongdoing.
How do we do meaningful acknowledgement of systemic RUC wrongdoing? Half a billion pounds was spent implementing the Patten reforms to policing. No one ever said why it was necessary. No one ever officially said the RUC was involved in systemic harms and abuses. The narrative of individual wrongdoing remains in the ascendency. There has never been official acknowledgement that RUC policy operated to facilitate state impunity. And any sense of accountability appears to be as elusive as ever. This is a huge gap.
I am a great believer in parallel processes. Undoubtedly we can have a genuine Chief Constable of the PSNI who is engaged in genuine processes, and we are I think beginning to witness meaningful engagement with the concept of acknowledgment. And we must meet this on its own terms.
However, bear in mind, it is not just up to him on his own – the British state have ultimate responsibility for state actions and practices.
Equally we must demand accountablity for the families affected by state impunity and collusion. And we must demand official state acknowledgement for this. And that will be multi layered and more complex than any of the processes witnessed to date. Big questions indeed for us to reflect on.