Sleepwalking to the past

Sleepwalking to the past
by Brian Rowan, Journalist

We are beginning to see how hazardous any exploration of the past will be.

It can be seen in the latest court battles over the Boston College tapes.

This time investigators want to listen in on what loyalist leader Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea told researchers involved in this oral history project.

We may not know the fine detail of Rea’s past, but we know his position and his side in the conflict years.

He was leader of the Red Hand Commando – an organisation closely associated with the UVF and with guns and bullets and killing.

Rea has been to jail.

But this is only one part of his story and his past.

The ceasefires were delivered by those who were in the thick of the violence and the orders – by the leaderships of the IRA and what was then a Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC).

And, beyond those ceasefires, political agreements and arms decommissioning had to be achieved.

This is also part of Rea’s story, and there are other poses that show him in those peace-making and peace-building frames.

In the journey out of conflict, people – republican and loyalist – may have thought it was safe to begin to tell their stories.

The fallout from the Boston project, the arrest of Gerry Adams and others, and now the investigation into Rea, are proof that story-telling from the Past still comes with the possibility of arrest and charges.

There is also a continuing political battle over who knew what and when in relation to the controversial on-the-runs scheme which allowed republicans to return home in the years that followed the Good Friday Agreement.

Unionists want answers from Tony Blair, from the NIO, from the police and from Sinn Fein, but are nowhere near as questioning when it comes to themselves.

How big headlines and big details were missed long before the Downey case emerged are things that have yet to be explained in any credible way.

The recent Stormont House Agreement was about trying to create a process that would at least begin to address the unanswered questions of the past.

It will take a couple of years to shape its investigation, information-recovery, archive, acknowledgement and reconciliation elements.

And, in the meantime, a battlefield takes the place of a thinking and doing process.

The Past won’t be answered in pursuit of a few individuals and, at some point, in the way things are being done, other doors will be knocked.

What happened here, in the decades that stretch from the 1970s through to now, was not just about the IRA and the loyalist leadership.

People need to wake up to the past and to what can be answered and how that is done.