Monday, August 27, 2007

And a time for every purpose, under heaven ...

Malcolm recalls a teenaged moment: sitting in a pub, drinking (under-aged) pints in the company of the late (and equally under-aged) Peter Bellamy. Both were aspiring to be amateur, unpaid and probably-useless assistants on an archaeological excavation at Warham Camp, an Iron Age ring-fort in northernmost Norfolk (so that makes it 1959).

An aged yokel addressed the two, and asked what they wor a-doin'.

On being told, he informed them, confident in local lore, that Warham camp was where Oliver Cromwell beat Julius Caesar, and did they know that.

So, to the present moment.

New Year 2006, Sir Hugh Orde, then Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, set up the Historical Enquiries Team. This was announced as £30M to:
re-examine 3,268 killings between 1969 and the 1998 peace accord.

The squad of about 100 detectives and support staff will need between five and seven years to complete its work.

The review team, led by retired Metropolitan Police Commander David Cox, will use the latest forensic science and intelligence analysing technology.

17 August 2007, with already some £8M spent, the Belfast Telegraph has an up-date.
[The team] has reached 1972.

That means 262 cases from the first years of the Troubles have been reviewed so far.

No charges have been brought, although the Director of Public Prosecutions is currently considering one file submitted by the Historical Enquiries Team
Oh, and it's now the British Government's fault:
The British government was accused today of failing to deliver on a pledge to fund an investigative unit re-examining murders from Northern Ireland's Troubles. Dave Cox, head of the Historical Enquiries Team, revealed that last year's funding, worth £4 million, had to come out of Sir Hugh Orde's policing budget for Northern Ireland, even though the government promised two years ago that it would provide £32 million for the work over six years.
Let it not be forgotten that there is also a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (what's a couple of million a year between friends?) which
works vigorously and independently to ensure that the human rights of everyone in Northern Ireland are fully and firmly protected in law, policy and practice.
Now we've also got Lord Eames (former Archbishop of Armagh) and Denis
Bradley (former vice-chairman of the Policing Board):
finding consensus on how to address the legacy of the Troubles ... and ... given a year to propose a system of addressing the past that will have the support, or at least the acquiescence, of victims of the Troubles and those bereaved by the Troubles.
Thank you, the Irish Times for that clarification.

And all of this relentless searching for knowledge at public expense, when Malcolm and his fellow blogsmiths daily do it for free.

Any alternatives

What (slightly—but it’s only another few million pounds) worries Malcolm about all this is the imminent emergence of yet more mini-quangos, all in search of an acceptable, approved, politically-correct history.

Nobody, but nobody is going to achieve a generally-accepted, values-free, academic ‘history’ of NI and the ineffable ‘Troubles’ in Malcolm's alloted lifespan, or even the lifetimes of his ever-more numerous grand-children. The legends, the accompanying baggage is too great. Malcolm suggests that be left to the journos-on-the-make, those sure-fire instant-historians already cluttering the shelves of both sides of the sectarian divide.

"What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas"

So says the Las Vegas Tourist Agency. Similarly, what went on in the RUC, the IRA, the UDA, or any other group of initials, will enjoy similar burial, no matter how many commissions. The surest way to make sure the evidence goes awol is to pursue it officially: better to let things rot for a few years, until some hungry PhD student happens on the odd dusty and neglected file.

So, wonders Malcolm, why can’t we do a Revolutionary Calendar Year One: rename and relaunch the whole thing, and start again?

Giles Tremlett’s Travels through a Country’s Hidden Past, especially Chapter 3: Amnistía and Amnesia: the Pact of Forgetting, tells how the Spaniards coped with a painful and far-bloodier past:

Francoism never has been placed on trial (unless the varied judgements of historians count). Silence was at the heart of Spain's transition to democracy — enshrined in the pacto del olvido... There were no hearings, no truth commissions and no formal process of reconciliation beyond the business of constructing a new democracy, This was no South Africa, no Chile, no Argentina. The mechanics of repression — police files on suspects and informers — would not be made public, as they would be in East Germany, Poland or the Czech Republic. Nor was Franco's Spain a defeated Germany or Japan, forced to confront its own guilty past. In fact, it would be Franco's own men who would, largely, oversee and manage the Transición. They would do so in a way that made sure neither they, nor those who came before them, could be called to account for anything they had done on behalf of el Caudillo. 'The political class turned into angels, proud of the almost mafioso omertà when it came to talking about themselves,' wrote one of the handful of critics of that transition, Gregorio Morán.

Now Tremlett plainly disapproves of that process, as we all can, hundreds of miles and several decades from the end of Francoism. At least, for the interim, it provides a modus vivendi for all concerned.

Malcolm recalls a moment earlier this year, at a Tarragona hotel breakfast. Malcolm was chatting to a man of similar years to himself. The history of Spain emerged. Malcolm made one comment too many, and referred to the Civil War and the falangists. The conversation ended, as the other moved away, silently, and finally. Perhaps that was right and proper.

Read, mark and inwardly digest. It isn't just Norfolk where history gets scrambled.

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