There are lots of things this “peace process” has thrown up I didn’t expect but these past few months have surely surpassed them all.
Did you think 22 years after the signing the Good Friday Agreement that a former prisoner in a wheelchair would have to be expressing remorse to strangers before he would be allowed access to a pension for injuries he sustained while preventing an LVF gang from massacring children at a disco? Did you think the British government would be pitching him against other people in wheelchairs before anyone would get a pension? It’s a spectacle so devoid of civilised norms yet is damningly predictable in our traumatised and unreconciled society.
In our conflict the same individual could have engaged in inflicting harms, and also experienced great harms. That’s a fact. Whether you identify with the flag that will drape their coffin is irrelevant to the fact that most lives lived during the 30 years of conflict were complex. And victimhood was complex.
There are some people who were harmed during the conflict who never had any political inclination, never joined any armed group, and were injured or killed. Those civilians came from every community and background. In particular childrenwere injured and killed. Their stories are not complex at all. Harm was done and they suffered life changing devastation. And that needs to be comprehensively acknowledged and needs that arise met.
In parallel to that is a great truth that for a great number of others it is more complex. Thousands were engaged in armed actions and supporting them. Whether they were republican, loyalist or state actors. Their experiences will be framed by their membership of the groupings. However, if they experienced harm their needs are universal.
One person can have experienced violence inflicted on peaceful protest, the brutality of militarisation and repeated raids on their home, just because they lived in a certain area. They could then have joined an armed group and engaged in actions that caused harm. They could then be arrested and beaten in an interrogation centre. They could then have their sexuality used against them over years of strip searching and sexualised violence in a prison setting. Following release they could then be targeted as a former prisoner, their family members might be injured or killed as a result of systemic targeting. They might continue in armed actions or supporting them. They could suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. Their children may experience trans-generational trauma. One lifetime and real life.
Reflections on our conflict have largely depended on a turgid pretence of singular narratives, especially in relation to victimhood. Good victims, bad victims, and few in between.That myth was created by a British government that pretends to be neutral and those that find that myth convenient. The truth is that there were three actors to the conflict with the state and loyalism acting in concert. The current impasse on a payment for the injured disrupts the myths of clean conflict and inserts inconvenient and raw truths.
But ultimately, 22years on from our peace agreement we should’ve been in a place where the needs of those harmed are met, irrespective of creed, politics or background. We do not only owe it to those most harmed, we owe it to our future to be better and free of this toxic pretence.