Andrée Murphy hails from Dublin but has lived in Belfast since 1994.
She is the Deputy Director of Relatives for Justice, a national victim support NGO which provides advocacy and therapeutic support for the bereaved and injured of the conflict. Holding a Masters Degree in international human rights law, Andrée's particular expertise and research on women affected by conflict trauma has seen her provide evidence to the United Nations in Geneva and to Congressional hearings in the US.
Andrée is a columnist for Belfast Media Group and is a regular contributor to broadcast media, providing political analysis and commentary.
THE New Decade New Approach (NDNA) deal was sprung onto the local parties in January 2020 by Simon Coveney and erstwhile British Secretary of State Julian Smith. Within just a week its significance was critically damaged when Boris Johnson arrived to endorse it with no additional resources for its wide-ranging commitments. A couple of weeks later Julian Smith was sacked and replaced by Brandon Lewis. By March the NDNA was all but torn up by the British government when Lewis announced that the commitment to implement the legacy structures of the Stormont House Agreement within 100 days would in fact not happen, and instead the British government was thinking about amnesty for British soldiers.
THE origins of this peace process were all framed in talking. Who spoke to whom, when and how. There were secret talks, informal talks, talks processes, and there were even talks about talks. The aim of talks shifted as the peace process shifted. John Hume was considered a great risk-taker talking to Gerry Adams about the potential for ceasefires, and has since been widely praised for his commitment to peace. Unionism didn’t want to talk to republicans and the British pretended they weren’t talking to republicans, while they chatted away.
POOR old Edwin Poots. Here he is with the sun shining looking like Santa forgot him on Christmas morning. Who would have thought he could be so glum after winning his coup d’état? He succeeded in building the gallows and getting Arlene Foster to self-guillotine herself from power. He managed to see off Jeffrey Donaldson’s challenge for leadership, with, if reports to PSNI are to believed, a little help from the DUP’s stakeholding friends. He got his show of hands at the party meeting to ratify his election, despite some of the lowered hands walking out to the glee of the waiting media. And yet poor Edwin stands like Pyrrhus himself after winning at Asculum. As though one more victory will surely be his undoing. And that is just within the DUP itself.
A FEW years ago, I got given a lovely planter box for Christmas. Inside it were lovely red and white flowers, a tiny little Christmas tree, and some ivy.
AS we come to terms with the past few weeks of intense discussion on legacy it is important for us to take a pause. So many families are critically engaged in the debate on dealing with the past. They try to get their voices heard past the academic commentary about them. Which is not easy as the failure to deal with the past is blamed on victims themselves. Apparently, their failure to agree on one particular way of dealing with the past is the problem. It isn’t decades of the denial of the rights of victims and survivors. It isn’t the failure to insert mechanisms to deal with the past into the Good Friday Agreement. It isn’t systemic fighting of families in courts for decades. It isn’t the censorship of the experience of victims if it is too challenging for state narratives. It isn’t the obtuse and deliberate obliteration of women’s experience of conflict to render it invisible.
“Well, old man, I will tell you news of your son... truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long... but at the length truth will out”Launcelot, the Merchant of Venice THE truth is out. What the families knew, what their community supported them to say, what some politicians were persuaded to agree with, what the rest of us were committed to saying with them – the dead of the Ballymurphy Massacre were unjustifiably killed by the British army. The British army covered it up. The British army told lies. The families were treated with contempt. But that is the past. Today the truth is out. Father Hugh Mullan and Frank Quinn were shot dead going to aid Bobby Clarke, lying critically hurt in the field beside Springfield Park. Heroes to their families and to their community. Noel Philips, Joan Connolly, Danny Teggart and Joseph Murphy were guilty of nothing when gunned down, and the use of lethal force was unjustified. When Joan Connolly lay injured she was abused instead of assisted, assistance that may have made a difference as she cried for help with her face blown off by gunfire.
THE scene at Belfast’s Laganside Courts on Tuesday afternoon should be one of the most instructive moments of recent times in our peace process. A family, violently bereaved almost 50 years ago, walk out after the collapse of the trial of the two paratroopers responsible for the killing of their husband/father. They carry themselves with dignity as they explain to the media that the criminal justice system has been fixed to consistently deny them truth and justice for nearly 50 years. On the same street, a number of others huddle to celebrate the trial’s collapse. They gloatingly elbow bump with the former minister for veterans Jonny Mercer who has flown in from London to join them. It is a visible and tangible demonstration of state impunity and a skewing of the debate on historic truth and justice to vindicate the narrative of the British state and denigrate the rights and interests of the victims of state violence. The collapse of the trial of the two British paratroopers who killed Joe McCann in 1972 was possible because state violations have never been investigated properly. They were deliberately treated differently in 1972 by the Royal Military Police – as discovered by Relatives for Justice – in order to ensure that British soldiers had nothing to worry about. The same state killings, when being reinvestigated by the PSNI’s disgraced Historical Enquiries Team, were treated illegally. The objective of both processes was to secure state impunity from accountability for its role during the conflict.
WHEN the New Decade New Approach (NDNA) ‘Deal’ was put up to the parties by the British and Irish governments the British government had an annex in which they pledged to implementing the Stormont House Agreement legacy mechanisms within 100 days and to appoint a Veterans Commissioner to act as an “independent point of contact to support and enhance outcomes for veterans in Northern Ireland”. While the commitment to the legacy mechanisms for all victims and survivors certainly created hope and optimism for a few weeks, in a place stuffed full of commissioners and quangos the position of Veterans Commissioner got little attention and was pretty much ignored in the discourse. Except that it perpetuated the false narrative that victims’ rights are a concession and something to be balanced. Of course, we know what happened to the commitments to the bereaved and injured. In January 2020 they had their hopes raised and in March the British government ripped up the international, cross-party Stormont House Agreement. By contrast, the British government was as good as its word to the veterans and appointed their commissioner in August 2020. The UUP’s Danny Kinahan got the job. The section on veterans in NDNA is an exercise in cognitive dissonance. Committing to the Armed Forces Covenant, a review of aftercare services for veterans and promoting a War Memorial Trust and the Commissioner for Veterans, it is deliberately blind to the history of the British army in our shared region. Of course, veterans with needs arising from psychological or physical injuries should be supported. But to pretend that those needs exist in a vacuum is ludicrous. British army veterans share this space with others injured by our conflict, a great many of whom were injured by the British army itself. To have only partial schemes enacted supporting only the British army while disregarding the rights of victims and survivors would be breath-taking – if we had any breath left to be taken. Last week the hitherto elusive Danny Kinahan supported the notion of amnesty legislation for all conflict-related harms. His starting point is an amnesty for British soldiers, but being the sensible chap he is he recognises this would have to apply to all actors and all harms. His comments came in the wake of the resignation of Jonny Mercer MP as the Westminster Veterans Minister. He feels very affronted because his bosses have not yet legislated for a cloak of impunity around all British soldiers who served in Ireland. And all of that commentary forced the DUP to tell it as it is. They want legislation that gives impunity to British soldiers too. But not to anyone else. And that tells us the real motivation behind it all. This is about the British government and unionism refusing to countenance any challenge to their own narrative of the conflict. Which, of course, is a bit ludicrous when their narrative lies in tatters on the floors of courts in Belfast, Derry, London and Strasbourg. But there is that cognitive dissonance again. Last week, however, the media debate generally focused on the British government and unionism and if they would “concede” an amnesty to all actors or just pursue a singular amnesty. Victims were generally absent from the debate. Just as their codified and enshrined rights are absent from this self-serving discourse.
THE final scene in the masterpiece Schindler’s List features Holocaust survivors, or their relatives, laying stones on the grave of Oskar Schindler in Jerusalem. It is a poignant moment at the end of a story of courage, and overwhelming devastation. There are so few Jews left in Belfast today compared to decades past. The graves of their parents and grandparents, and the memory of those whose descendants have left Ireland is surely something to be treasured. The Jewish Cemetery in the City Cemetery is part of European Jews’ history. Given the attempt in the mid-20th century to wipe out all Jews, the memory of Judaism in Europe, particularly in its physical form, is sacred.
“These riots were the result of British interference in the island of Ireland”. These words were spoken by an independent, London-based journalist last Sunday night reporting on the civil disturbance images that were broadcast across the globe last week. After a few days of non-stop garbage turning hyperbole into politics, this analysis was as refreshing as it was surprising. Last week’s street disruption was about Britain and its utter disregard for all of the people who live here. Britain’s disregard for the majority who voted to Remain. Disregard for the Good Friday Agreement. Disregard for the unionists treated with continual contempt by London.
I HIT FIFTY this Spring. Not for a few weeks yet so hold off on the cake! (Carrot, since you’re asking.) My mother died only a few weeks after she turned 50. She faced the weeks I’m in now with the certainty that she would soon die from breast cancer. Horrible, debilitating, aggressive breast cancer. I spent all of my 40s expecting a shortened life like hers, so what do you do when you’ve been entirely convinced you wouldn’t reach 50 – an age taken for granted by the majority, but denied to a significant number, including your own mother? Planning a celebration isn’t what I want. It does not feel right. But it is enough of a milestone to give me pause. And somehow that reflection goes outwards. Born into a partitioned state, ill at ease with itself, with an incomplete history, I felt unarticulated suffocation. I was in a state founded on violent, unfinished revolution that was censoring its own people and history, and turning its rage inwardly.
SO the place is in a meltdown over Bobby Storey’s funeral again. We have Arlene Foster calling for the Chief Constable to go. We have a respected commentator saying the whole Executive will have to come down. And we have the stoic Simon Byrne at a podium saying he is staying where he is, with the background predictable, unfailingly flawed narrative that the PSNI is “caught in the middle”. Well, this time Arlene is right – but not for the reasons she thinks she is. Byrne is not caught in any “middle” and should go. Simon Byrne’s position as Chief Constable has been fundamentally called into question in the context of dealing with the past. In recent months his response to the murder of a human rights solicitor and the response to the assault of a dignified and socially distanced memorial service and the subsequent arrest of Mark Sykes have placed him full square in the public eye. And his position with it. Or should have. Following the appalling vista on the Ormeau Road Byrne asked to meet the families affected by the atrocity in which five people died and seven were injured. They said they would meet him if assured of the status of Mark Sykes, and that he was not under threat of prosecution. The Chief Constable refused to give such an undertaking. He refused to say that Mark Sykes was not guilty of any offence on the day he was laying flowers at the Sean Grahams bookmakers and officers of the PSNI double-handcuffed him, drove him around Belfast in the back of a car for an hour and released him without charge. The families refuse to meet him with such mendacity hanging over their dignified heads. Simon Byrne had in November reacted to the Secretary of State’s egregious response to the UK Supreme Court with eye blinking patheticness. When Brandon Lewis made his statement to the House of Commons refusing a public inquiry and saying the PSNI would look into the killing, Byrne’s chop suey of a response was to try to be all things to all people. Ultimately, he sidestepped his human rights obligations to the Finucanes and the rest of us.
I WRITE this piece in the sure and certain knowledge that there has never been a time in my memory that constitutional change on this island was more possible. Monday night’s RTÉ Claire Byrne special on a united Ireland was unprecedented in content and in tone. To have the three largest parties interviewed live on a prime time spot – the leader of the opposition, An Tánaiste and An Taoiseach – with the words United Ireland in 10 foot letters behind them was breathtaking. We ain’t in Kansas now, Toto. But far more interesting than the optics was the content. There was considerable care and concern for those for whom this debate will feel less comfortable, those with British and unionist identity and background. The voices of Sarah Creighton and Andrew Trimble were as informative as they were important. But more than that all of the panellists took time to acknowledge what they were hearing from them.
ONCE many looked to the teachings of their churches, but then those churches betrayed them. Once many looked to governments, but then politicians betrayed them. Some sought out a media to guide them, but the moguls were all conspiring in lies.Many thought they had found freedom of expression in social media only to realise it was all an algorithm filling the bank accounts of the very rich. Once the law was the solid foundation, but then lawmakers broke their own laws for themselves and used it as a tool for oppression against those who once believed in its power. Once we believed in ideals of equality, only to have experience tell us it exists only on paper. So, we retreated to our homes hoping our claps and our lit tealights would change something. It only acted as a sedative against rage. Last week began with International Women’s Day – the annual broken promise of commitment to equality. It ended on Mother’s Day – the supermarkets’ exploitation of our pretence that society values mothers. And in between we saw how the murder of a young woman in London could at once enrage for change and expose how change will not result. Tealights were lit in windows all over the place with messages of ‘Reclaim the night.’Social media was awash with women sharing how being alone in any public space has been dangerous. We all recognise it, experience it, live it. Very quickly we see messages – don’t tell women how to be safe, tell men how not to attack. Pithy, worthy and clever. When women attended a vigil on Clapham Common they were attacked by a police force with some direction or other about Covid. And a young red haired woman in handcuffs filled timelines.
WHEN partition was forced upon this island 100 years ago, the opinions of Catholics, Irish republicans and nationalists living in the northern six counties were rendered invisible. The new Free State establishment turned away. And that remained the convenient fixed position for the next 75 years. When Gerry Adams and John Hume engaged in peace talks many in the southern establishment turned away – in fact much of the SDLP did too. But some found courage, including Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, and hope was given a chance. And a peace agreement based on human rights became possible. The naysayers on both sides of the border were faced down and the people won. This political reality has left unionism hankering after some post-partition, pre-conflict Protestant Utopia. Sharing power in post-Good Friday Agreement Stormont has been a rearguard action for Unionism. The routine and deliberate denial of Irish identity and equal rights for local citizens is their attempt to deny current reality and perpetuate the myth of the past. It is a post-partition mentality that refuses to shift to the 21st century. And that entrenchment is indulged in Dublin. Southern Irish establishment figures and huge sections of mainstream media fete unionism as though it is a beleaguered and oppressed people, while diminishing the aspiration for constitutional change. Unionism, largely due to its own actions, is now facing that constitutional change. The focus of southern policy makers and media is disproportionately focused on unionism’s “fears” as though they are more real and more reasonable than those advocating change. Never mind that inbuilt anti-Irish discrimination is part of the post-GFA infrastructure so that Irishness is either an act of compromise or an act of protest. Never mind that the six-county population was dragged out of the EU against its will. Unionist “fears” hold a supremacy where once unionist political power resided. The harsh truth, though, is that for the largest parties in Leinster House unionism is a convenient vehicle to hide their own pro-partition interests. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have both benefited from partition. The prospect that a new dispensation will create a new bill of rights for all citizens, will expect fair and equal health care, will have higher expectations for public housing, will create a coalition of the progressives is plenty motivation for any FG/FFer to seek out an angry Orangeman to hide behind. Recent concern about loyalist militancy, having spent the past 20 years ignoring the murderous and criminal activities of dissident loyalism, is pretty convenient. Being outraged at any republican saying anything “because the IRA”, while families across this land live with the ignominy of British state impunity and the denial of truth, without it ever mentioned by their Taoiseach, gives hypocrisy a new definition. Simultaneously calling pro-constitutional change advocacy divisive as though partition, discrimination and hatred is okay tells you all you need to know.