Poisons Past

Published Wednesday, 07 May 2014
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They say a week is a long time in politics - and what a week it has been.

Last Wednesday, Gerry Adams travelled from the Dail in Dublin to Dundalk and then to Antrim where he spent four nights in the serious crime suite.

The police line was that a 65-year-old man had been arrested in connection with the abduction and murder of Jean McConville in December 1972 - something the Sinn Fein leader has always denied.

And republicans believe the "principal focus" of the 33 recorded police interviews "was to try to tie an [IRA] membership charge" to Adams.

A lot of the information detectives were working with was "open source" material - books, newspaper articles and photographs as well as interviews recorded by former IRA figures for the Boston College oral history project.

That project has crumbled before our eyes in recent days.

And, where are we one week on from the Adams arrest?

The pendulum has swung in the other direction.

Sinn Fein is now on the front foot, the police are in the corner having released the Sinn Fein President without charge with a report to go to the PPS and we are no closer to an agreed process on the past.

Indeed former Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde has described and identified the absence of political will.

Eames-Bradley was rejected, unionists walked away from the Haass/O'Sullivan proposals and the next attempt to get some movement will come in published advice from the Victims Commissioner within the next 24 hours.

The Adams arrest was another illustration and example of the past in the present.

It threatened to destabilise the policing and political processes, but the mood has calmed since the Sinn Fein leader was released from police custody on Sunday.

But the matter is not closed. There will be ramifications and implications.

What republicans saw through their eyes was Adams being singled out.

The PSNI will reject that of course and will argue they go where the evidence leads but, in this place, it is about what people think.

Any number of people - republican, loyalist and other - could be questioned on the basis of open source material.

That point has been made to me several times in recent days, and the questions are why Adams and why now?

Since his release, you hear in the commentary that this was a policing own goal, and in the fallout of the past week there is talk again from republicans about a 'dark side' influence.

That's one side of the coin - the charge that the arrest of Adams was deliberately political - "inextricably linked" to the upcoming elections, to quote Martin McGuinness.

On the other side, it will be argued that to release the Sinn Fein President without charge was equally political, and what all of this screams out is the need for some process.

It's about achieving answers, acknowledgement and an archive within which all stories can be recorded - the many narratives, truths and experiences of the conflict years.

That needs the political will that Hugh Orde identified as absent.

It needs a mood change within politics, and it needs leaders to take the first steps.

It's Adams' view that the British and Irish Governments should not construct or design a process - that they are participants not observers or facilitators.

So, it needs international architects, and Richard Haass and Megan O'Sullivan have indicated a willingness to write another report.

Not one that demands five party consensus, but rather a document that sets out international thinking on what the next steps need to be.

What the past week told us is that this can't be about one individual or one side.

What happened here is much more complicated and complex than that.

And what is the learning?

That without a process the poisons of the past will just keep seeping into the present.

A new Chief Constable will be appointed in a few weeks time - a chief constable who will need the help of politicians to take the past out of the policing frame.

© UTV News
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1 Comments
S.B. in Belfast wrote (170 days ago):
There is a widely held perception within the Nationalist and Republican community that Adams was singled out to make some sort of statement. The revelations that David Cameron and the Tories were wining and dining the DUP in 10 Downing Street on the same day that Adams was arrested will only add further fuel to the belief that the British government has now shifted firmly into the Unionist camp. Once again it appears that Westminster numbers and the possible need for DUP votes are dictating Tory policy on the North and that is just madness. Are the Tories and Unionism about to sacrifice the political process for self gain? It looks like it and the DUP will have a shopping list. It seems that the Tories have already granted one of them with no investigations of British State/UDR/RUC/Collusion crimes while sole focus is turned on Republicans. I predict that, coming up to the marching season, the next issue on the DUP's wishlist will be Loyalists now being allowed to march back up from Twaddell Avenue past the Ardoyne shops and that could literally light a sectarian fire in North Belfast and beyond that would be very hard to put out. It could be a dangerous times ahead here as it seems that Perfidious Albion has not learned from it's mistakes of the past.
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Brian Rowan
Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist, author and broadcaster who has reported on the major peace process developments - from ceasefires to political agreements.

Four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Journalist of the Year awards.

He is the author of four books and a regular commentator on UTV.

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