The first two weeks in February are always marked by commemorations of some of the most horrific incidents of our conflict. Because of the proximity of the dates of these incidents these weeks after St Brigid’s Day always bring pause to reflect.
The commemorations are as varied as they are connected. Commemorating the New Lodge Six is an opportunity to reflect on how a working–class community was so heavily militarised that military intelligence could roam at will on the ground and British army snipers could kill at will from their high positions. And it was at will because there was no investigation. There was no call for accountability beyond the streets that were burying their dead. There was no pretence that anything other than impunity would ever occur. But still the families gathered. Still the eye witnesses recorded their testimony. Still the faith was kept until the legal landscape was transformed and progress is slowly starting to be made. British intransigence and impunity still reign though.
On the Ormeau Road the monument to those killed in Sean Graham’s Bookmakers holds the words “bullets do not only travel distance but also through time”. The families who gather to say a rosary and place flowers at the exact time of the killings every year have seen how their evidencing of collusion goes without outrage. How the fact that state agents were provided with weapons and cover, and went on to kill again, with complete state facilitation, barely raises an eyebrow. Is it because they, like the families they only know from the journey for truth in New Lodge, come from working class nationalist areas?
Perhaps, except that the commemoration to Pat Finucane, which is always incredibly cold in weather but warm in congregation, tells us that a solicitor and member of the legal fraternity can be targeted by the state and no accountability will be secured. Pat Finucane was a working–class boy who became educated, qualified and took on state abuses through the law and even in the restricted environment of the 1980s made immense impact. His family has been treated with contempt and disregard by a state that expects to operate with impunity forever. Even when the truth is patently obvious and spelled out by their own investigations and reviews, they try to gas light the Finucanes and us all and tell us “no conspiracy here”. Geraldine Finucane is not allowing any gas lighting on her watch.
In Clonoe, County Tyrone families remember their young sons killed by state ambush. The families’ right to even ask questions at an inquest has been denied to them. The state is less obvious than it was in 1973 in New Lodge, they pretend they are engaged in effective investigations but that they don’t have resources to hold an inquest. 27 years later the families have not even had the opportunity to ask a formal question of those who pre-planned and carried out state assassination when ample opportunities for arrest were possible.
And there are other commemorations in these weeks, with families and friends isolated in their own grief, connected by experience to hundreds of others they may never meet. And the fire that burns with every passing year demanding truth, justice and accountability does not go out as those in hidden rooms hoped, but gets brighter and stronger.