As yet the piece does not seem to be available online, but one of Ireland’s finest contemporary historians writes in today’s News Letter, debunking the myth that Northern Ireland’s peace process offers a template for resolving other conflicts. In particular he challenges the notion, posited recently by both Peter Hain and Jonathan Powell, that ‘dialogue without preconditions’ is a prerequisite for edging terror groups toward peaceful means. He argues that previous unconditional engagement with Provisionals served only to intensify the movement’s violence, whilst progress was made when talks were clearly linked to the IRA calling a ceasefire.
Patterson also draws attention to the manner in which victims of terror have been marginalised. Consideration of ETA’s campaign in the Basque region of Spain has crystallised his thoughts. In Spain, ’organisation of victims have had a much higher profile than victims’ groups in Northern Ireland’. Here ’the discourse and thinking about victims’ issues have been dominated by groups which focus on victims of state violence’. A category, of course, which excludes the vast majority of victims, who suffered at the hands of republican terror. Patterson contends that the process was built to ’an unfortunate degree’ on sidelining the bulk of victims and submitting to the elisions of Republican terminology.
As an exposition of why unionists might feel uncomfortable with slanted ‘truth gathering’ exercises in which only one side properly participates, as an explanation as to why replacing terms such as ‘terrorist’ with less ‘value laden’ formulations such as ‘former combatant’ has a corrosive influence on victims, Patterson’s article is excellent. He concludes, ‘I would like to think that Eames/Bradley would mark a new departure in the sorry story of victims in Northern Ireland, but I am not holding my breath’.