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.
THIS week the British government responded to the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) commentary on legacy. The Committee’s pre-Christmas commentary on the unilateral move by the British government to tear apart the Stormont House Agreement was surprising as it was actual criticism.
THE anniversary of Stormont’s resurrection this week came as the tensions and frustration were visible for all to see. There was no New Year’s cheer with Covid rates soaring, hospitals creaking under pressure, the DUP messing around with kids’ exams, and supermarket shelves going bare as Brexit kicks in. But then came the intergovernmental, inter-party meeting on the anniversary and everyone released statements to say five-party government is tough, but it is an achievement that we can do it at all and we do manage to make local things happen. That is true and reasonable, but for many people the lack of enthusiasm towards Stormont hasn’t been assuaged by the past 12 months.
THIS is the winter our souls and bodies will be tested. And coming out the other side needs to be more meaningful than the number of boxsets we watched. I realise I’ve never felt less rested after a Christmas, or less energised facing into the challenge of a New Year. And I say that as someone who spent many Christmases with toddlers, a few with fresh grief, quite a number with work deadlines and more recently with the heaviness of ill health.
2021 what will it bring? In these uncertain times I suppose we have got used to just rolling with whatever comes up. There is such little point in planning at this stage we just have to go with change, as worrying about it hasn’t helped a great deal.
THIS is another week where the unsustainability of partition is laid bare. The bizarre and destructive DUP policies of ultra-unionism, irrespective of local consequence and right-wing ideology have met a perfect storm this month. The DUP are Victorian-era conservatives. And like the Victorians, Arlene Foster’s party simply look down their unionist noses at those who disagree with their world view.The sweat shop philosopher Adam Smith could not have written this party. Charles Dickens himself would’ve had difficulty portraying their ideological nihilism. The DUP doesn’t believe in state intervention or society. Their light touch approach to Covid-19 bears all of the hallmarks of purist laissez-faire, an ideology that created millionaires but drove and sustained the Great Depression. This survival of the fittest approach diverts all responsibility to the individual. Hence the calls for people to “use common sense”, rather than support the Executive introduction of restrictions at early stages in moments when it’s patently clear that not introducing restrictions is dangerous and irresponsible.
I GREW up in partitionist 1970s and 80s Dublin where minds and sympathies ended north of Drogheda and news from ‘the North’ was for the most part ignored. In my teenage years I had to seek out the history of my country since partition. I had to hunt for the facts behind the censored stories. If I am truthful it was people rather than academia that brought me past censorship. Had I not met Mairéad Farrell’s father on his own with a trestle table outside Government Buildings seeking signatures for support for an independent examination of how his daughter and her two colleagues died, had I not met the Derry brother of a ‘lifer’ still held in Long Kesh prison, had I not met Jennifer McCann not long after her release from Maghaberry, had I not met the County Down Presbyterian anti-extradition campaigner, I wonder might my life as a Free Stater continued uninterrupted as the Section 31 censorship act intended. Thankfully, I met all of these remarkable people and many more, and they transferred their words and writings to my naïve, but open, mind and I began to recognise the generational injustice of partition. Partition that at the point of a gun created the Protestant State for a Protestant People. Partition that ran artificially across the island asking everyone to forget our history, our connections, our country.
OUR post-Good Friday Agreement years have witnessed the cruel manipulation of some victims for political expediency and the deliberate snubbing of others as their experience does not fit convenient narratives or is just discomforting. The GFA is unique in international peace agreements with its lack of focus on victims and survivors. Of course, their needs and experiences did not go away. As an old police force was disbanded and a new police service formed, there was little public acknowledgement as to why that was necessary. Those harmed by the RUC and its use of lethal force, plastic bullets and collusion to procure murder were viewed as just another group of “stakeholders” to the Patten Commission, rather than the living embodiment of why change was critical for peace. The few initial examinations of past abuses came in the form of “nationalist confidence building measures”. Not the fulfilment of rights owed to those whose loved ones had been shot dead at a civil rights march, or targeted and executed as a result of state direction. To have framed the Saville Inquiry or the collusion inquiries in the fulfilment of rights or the rigour of justice would have tilted the axis of debate, no longer viewed as political deal making, and wins and losses, but rather as due process and protection of the rule of law. Sadly, law became negotiable when it came to dealing with the past. However, in parallel other families engaged the courts. They went for remedy for systemically ineffective investigations to the European Court of Human Rights and won on their complaints that the British state had not been meeting its positive obligations under Article 2 of the ECHR. With one judgment, the lexicon of recovery for families was changed forever. As more and more families affected by all actors to the conflict sought redress with application for inquests and investigation, ‘legacy’ became a political hot potato. While hitherto intractable issues were addressed, legacy became the site for political mud-slinging (and I use the term mud euphemistically). This week we heard about a closed process where some came together at Lambeth Palace to discuss legacy at the behest of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Some involved have been particularly vocal this week. They wish to pontificate about how amnesty for actors is desirable and families should be glad of any crumbs of information those with amnesties may share with them. Missing from the entire process were not only victims/survivors but any cognisance of the rights of victims. It appears like a pseudo repetition of what has gone before. Of course, everyone is entitled to talk about the past, and talk about how to contribute to the resolution of issues that appear to politically confound. However, what is not, or at least should not, be permissible is the purposeful denial of the rights of victims of the conflict. Actors to the conflict have taken enough from those bereaved and injured. It is unlawful, it is immoral and, as the past 20 years have demonstrated, rights-free approaches do not work. Convenient ‘fixes’ that defy law will not dissuade families from the pursuit of what has been denied to them for so long. The question now is, where will the actors who hold the obligations stand? On the side of law and with families, or on the side of convenience and expediency?
IN the days running into Brandon Lewis’s statement on a public inquiry for Pat Finucane there was a short sharp campaign to undermine it. It began with: “Because most families have been screwed over, no family should have access to anything.” We heard the contrived cry: “But don’t the family of xxx also deserve an inquiry?” Then the campaign invoked the names of solicitors killed by the IRA. “Why this solicitor and not xxx, doesn’t anyone value xxx?” Pat Finucane is thereby pitted against another dead solicitor. Classy. Then there was the continuation of besmirching Pat Finucane’s name. This besmirching began in January 1989 with Douglas Hogg in the House of Commons while the killing of Pat Finucane was being planned. He said then that there were some solicitors who were unduly sympathetic to the IRA. Now some of the Finucanes are put on banners, named in Westminster and John Finucane’s extraordinary mandate is dismissed and delegitimised. Media outlets played along and pitched the public inquiry for Pat Finucane as somehow compromised by his son’s public service. So by the time Brandon Lewis got up in the House of Commons to make his statement all previous political commitments, all legal direction and all legitimate expectation had been delegitimised, and he felt on solid ground to make a nonsensical statement devoid of law or reality. The denial of inquiry was welcomed by both the UU and DUP. Most of the comments began with some expression of “horror” at the killing of Patrick Finucane, words that are dripping in hypocrisy and lack of conviction. Some of the words are not worth repeating, but they did not miss the opportunity to add a cherry of bile on top of the cake of British government insult. In total contrast the statement from Brandon Lewis was met with dignified anger by Geraldine Finucane. Her husband was shot dead in front of her and their children in the home they shared. She herself was injured. She was 40 in 1989. Now at the age of 70 she still stands as a beacon of strength and fortitude. At her side are her sentinels, Michael, Katherine and John. They exude the confidence of the knowledge that they stand on the side of truth and justice. On March 18, Brandon Lewis tore up the Stormont House Agreement for dealing with the past, barely raising an eyebrow. This decision, which ensures that families will not be entitled to human rights-compliant investigation decades after their loved ones’ violent deaths, got little to no scrutiny. Why was that decision made? Because of the discomfort of former soldiers, cops and policy makers. There was a sustained and concerted campaign by some veterans, aided and abetted by unionism and the Conservative Party, aimed at preventing any scrutiny of their actions during the conflict. This culminated in the Stormont House Agreement being binned.The British state and Unionism happily sacrifice the rights of the Finucane family, all victims and our society to truth and justice in order to protect the reputation and narrative of their Britannia. But a lie does not become truth, and justice will not lie sleeping. The Finucanes will achieve their inquiry and all families will see access to lawful investigation. Justice will prevail.
THE signing of a joint letter by Michelle O’Neill, Stephen Farry, Colum Eastwood and Claire Bailey, calling on the British secretary of state to hold an independent investigation into the killing of human rights solicitor Patrick Finucane somehow did not get the headlines it deserved. It is worth reading in its entirety to see its import. That there is now a local majority consensus that agrees there was collusion in his killing in 1989, that agrees there has not been effective or human rights compliant investigation since, that agrees it remains a matter of utmost public interest that questions remain unanswered about who ordered the killing, about who knew what and when, and agrees that a public inquiry should be held is extraordinary. At the time of Pat Finucane’s murder the thought of the state colluding in the killing by the Ulster Defence Association was viewed as republican propaganda and was dismissed by most parties in the north. Even when the Weston Park negotiations agreed to a public inquiry into his death this was in the context of “building confidence” for nationalism in the peace process rather than a rights based approach to outstanding violations. Sadly in the south of Ireland in 1989 the Leinster House parties were not overly exercised either and if they looked North at all they were much more consumed with the defeat of the IRA than raising the killing of a human rights solicitor. This week the Finucane family met with the Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Mícheál Martin whose party is consistent in its call for a public inquiry, as are his immediate predecessors in Fine Gael. Every single party on this island, with the exception of those two with Unionist in their names, now stand full square behind the demand for a public independent judicial inquiry into Patrick Finucane’s murder. That is testimony to Geraldine Finucane and her children Michael, Catherine and John, who have refused to accept less, refused to be sidelined and refused to be silent. They have ensured that Pat’s name has rung across the halls of Leinster House, Washington’s Congressional buildings, Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights, the palace of Westminster and now the once closed and deaf buildings of Stormont. It is entirely to their credit that they have moved so many to the one place. This week is significant. The British Secretary of State must tell the London Supreme Court how they will comply with their verdict of nearly two years ago that there must be an independent inquiry. They tried cover up, that didn’t work. They tried blaming the loyalists, that didn’t work. They tried unaccountable paper-based review with the De Silva report eight years ago. That didn’t work. They tried apology instead of inquiry. That did not work. There is no longer any hiding place for the British government. They must allow full scrutiny of the facts surrounding this killing. And we know that once light is shed many, many, other families affected by Britain’s policy of collusion, run by the Security Service, the RUC Special Branch and the British army’s Force Research Unit, with total knowledge and support of Whitehall, will also be vindicated. And that will be in our post-conflict society’s interest. The blood of truth has seeped out from under the closed doors of impunity for too long. It truly is time for truth.
IT would be mid-November when we would be got from school and she would bring us to get something for the dinner. You knew when she saw the turnips that we would be going to the pork shop. She got the pork chops with a bit of kidney in them. They were gorgeous with turnip. With them tucked into the bottom of the pram we went towards the dome of delights. I loved the hardware shop. Even the smell of it. A combination of leather from the straps, wood from the brooms we called twigs, and the different oils used to cut the keys and sharpen the knives. And there was everything in there. From the shelves that needed ladders to get near anything, to the floor filled with so many items from silver bins to cast iron fire buckets. My mam had to leave the pram outside. “Ah, you will want sugar soap, isn’t it that time again already, Mrs Murphy?” My mother was only in her early 20s and had had me when she was 16, so she was normally called by her first name by older people. But not in the hardware shop, whose owner Mr Finnegan treated everyone who walked through the door like an Egyptian princess purchasing emeralds.
MICHELLE O’Neill’s and Arlene Foster’s extraordinary joint letter to Brussels on the application of the Withdrawal Agreement’s joint protocol to trade between Ireland and Britain should have stopped the political lights this week. The last time Brussels received such a letter it was co-signed by the late Martin McGuinness just after the 2016 Brexit vote. Since then, such has been the division between the parties that joint letters were impossible. However, circumstances are so severe that the two parties have now jointly expressed significant concern to Brussels. The letter, written under the terms of the joint protocol, addresses its current application and raises the real prospect that after Christmas trade between Britain and Ireland will be so severely impacted that basic day-to-day groceries will become unavailable and major supermarkets may pull out of the north altogether. This is a credible fear as Britain becomes a third country in international trade terms and food goods arriving on the island of Ireland, which will remain under EU regulations, from Britain will need complex and significant paperwork to ensure regulations are being met. That will cost those transporting the food so much that it may become cost ineffective and they will cease trade altogether. That is such a real prospect that it’s already being planned for by major supermarkets. Quite simply, the shelves may well become empty of goods and food we have become accustomed to. There are some who are very worried that the joint letter lets London off the hook in the trade negotiations. Right now, we know that London has been typically misbehaving in the negotiations and that substantive progress remains elusive. And right now, all blame for the madness is put squarely at the doors of Westminster and the DUP-Tory axis. So, the worry is that the joint ministers writing to Brussels eases the diplomatic pressure on Britain. That is fair analysis, but there are other factors to consider. London doesn’t care if English suppliers can or cannot trade to the north of Ireland, so that may not be a significant bargaining chip in the first place. The Tories don’t care if Marksies or Tesco continue in the north of Ireland.
THE next Assembly election is May 2022. Since the last time we gave MLAs their electoral mandate the Assembly remained collapsed for nearly three years and then within weeks of its restoration there was a pandemic. By now we might have expected every political decision to be framed by electorally diverted eyes. The last 18 months of mandates can imply that no decisions are made in case they imply electoral disadvantage. Big politics are often sidelined, as making strategic decisions can risk constituency displeasure. Hence the failure to implement the Bengoa Report in healthcare – political cowardice pure and simple. Perhaps we will see Robin Swann, a man whose political gravitas has grown exponentially, grasp the nettle once Covid passes. It can certainly do his ailing party no harm and courage may well be rewarded. Indeed, strategic politics may well build a head of steam for parties more widely.In particular for Sinn Féin. They are in power in the north and are within a hair’s breadth of power in the south, on the basis of promise of radical transformation. Their political opponents in the south regularly point north and ask questions about delivery and the party’s capacity to make change. Of course, those comments are infuriating as they never acknowledge the limitations to make change due to Westminster legislative and monetary constraints, and the obvious issue of sharing power with the DUP. Nonetheless the attacks sting. For the current incumbents in the Department of Communities, however, strategic thinking is the standard. There was no napping with Covid. The immediate and hands-on response won praise from all quarters as application for benefits became remote and streamlined. There were also initiatives to complement the Hurculean community efforts to support the vulnerable. But this week’s announcement on housing leaves that looking like small potatoes. The statement by Minister Carál Ní Chuilín was billed as radical by her party and it is no hyperbolic claim. If by the elections in May 2022 even a third of those reforms are passed and there are JCBs and cranes on building sites with social contract and affordable homes being built, and tenants in the private sector are protected to the extent she envisions, she will have demonstrated commitment and delivery on those radical policies in an unprecedented way. And it will chime with the southern political platform of delivery on housing perfectly. It is as politically savvy as it is badly needed. If implemented, the Ní Chuilín housing reforms will deliver in meaningful ways to the most in need in our communities. Housing allocated on the basis of need. Security of tenancy for all of those renting. Decent standards of housing for all renters. And most of all, significantly more homes in areas where they are desperately needed. Like the very best policies they will be understood by everyone, recognised for their significance, embraced by all and will be impossible to reverse out of by anyone who occupies the chair after her. After nine months in the department it is possibly the most important policy piece since devolution 2007 and a marked statement of intent in the No Return to the Status Quo Assembly. If these reforms and Bengoa are under way by May next year, it would mark this short term of sitting devolution as the most successful to date.
THIS week marks the 27th anniversary of the killings of Gerard and Rory Cairns in their home outside Lurgan. It was their sister Roisín’s 11th birthday and the family had just had a party in their home. Their mother and father, Sheila and Eamon, had nipped out to their Gaeilge rang. Armed loyalists came into the house. Roisín saw them first and one of them looked her in the eye and put a finger to his mouth to tell her to be quiet. She was 11 and thought it must be a Halloween trick. They then opened fire, killing Rory, aged 18, and Gerard, aged 22. It is too difficult to imagine that scene and the aftermath that Eamon and Sheila came back to. Even at a time of escalated loyalist killings these deaths shocked and outraged. And that was that. For the past 27 years, apart from when Eamon and those who support him speak publicly, nothing official has been done to address this outrage through investigation and pursuit of justice. Why? Because at least one state agent was involved in planning, executing and covering up the events in the Slopes, Bleary on October 28, 1993.
THE political response to the latest rise in incidences of Covid-19 on this island has been ill conceived and lacking in coherence. Two weeks ago, south of the border the once venerated Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan returned from a leave of absence to care for his ill wife to recommend that the southern 26 counties move to Level 5 restrictions. This advice was leaked, manipulated in the media, dismissed at a cabinet meeting, and to top it all Leo Varadkar trashed the reputation of Mr Holohan on live television. It all left a very bad taste in most decent people’s mouths. Last night Mr Holohan’s judgement was vindicated as a “national” lock down was announced by a sombre Taoiseach, who in fairness to him acknowledged the weariness of a population, if not taking any responsibility for it. Of course, the south’s CMO will take no pleasure in that vindication. It means that there are people who will die in the coming weeks who might not had the measures been taken earlier and on his advice. And it means Level 5 will last for six weeks instead of four as was also first recommended. In the north we have fared little better. As the rates of Covid have soared the political response has been clumsy and faltering. We know that at the heart of this has been the reluctance of the DUP to see any significant measures, and once Westminster announced that they would provide (limited) funding for workers who had to stay at home and businesses forced to close, they had no hiding place, so the four weeks of measures were introduced. Sadly, almost as soon as the ink was dry on the regulations the briefing against them began.
WHEN George Floyd’s murder was captured on camera and broadcast across the world the reaction was not only to his own torturous suffocation under the knee of a police officer and the other officers who were complicit. The reaction was a global shudder that reached across 300 years of slavery and its consequences. We witnessed a rising up against not only a modern state’s actions but against the treatment of people of colour across the globe since white Europeans took to the seas with their flags and their ‘commerce’. Black Lives Matter spoke to the legacy of colonialism in an unprecedented way. George Floyd was not an individual, and his murder not a single act. The taking of George Floyd’s life was the legacy of the murderous raids on Western African nations and the enslavement of millions of people.