Unfinished Peace: Brian Rowan, journalist and author
by Bárbara Orozco DÍAZ for Northern Ireland Foundation
30 November 2016
‘Unfinished Peace’ was a seminar organised by the Transitional Justice Institute (TJI) at Ulster University. Rory O’Connell (TIJ Director) welcomed all and introduced the journalist, Brian Rowan.
Unfinished Peace: Thoughts on Northern Ireland’s Unanswered Past is the title of his last book, which was launched earlier this year.
Beginning with the Shankill bombing of 1993, this book takes a fresh look at the IRA and Loyalist ceasefires of 1994, the Docklands bomb, the Good Friday Agreement, and the genesis of the dissident republican campaign.
Also, it addresses ongoing concerns, such as prisoners and the ‘Disappeared’.
The author explained how it was designed to make a conversation by interviewing 40 people, with the voices of those who are rarely heard as well as the thoughts from well-known individuals, like PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton or the Rev. Harold Good.
Through all these stories, the speaker reflects on the process to achieve and to maintain the peace.
His first thought was about dealing with new beginnings, which he saw as related to the issue of our unresolved legacy.
During the last ten years, conferences, consultations (such as the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group), political talks (including Haass-O’Sullivan Talks), and the Fresh Start Agreement have approached legacy issues.
According to Rowan, all of them have failed, and demonstrated that the model of dealing with legacy has not been improved:
“The past unresolved means that new policing will always be nearly new policing, the new beginning a nearly new beginning – new politics, nearly new politics”, he said.
His second thought was about the truth:
“We need to be more honest with people in terms of what the true process was delivered.
“There will never be one truth which all recognise, and there will never be an agreed narrative. The gap is too wide to close,” Rowan said.
This leads to the still open question: are those who designed the process interested in addressing the past or avoiding the past?
At this point, Rowan expressed his view about how to deal with the past:
“We’ve spent ten years talking about investigation, information recovery, legacy units and reconciliation forums, but not ten years speaking to the IRA, Loyalists organisations and all those who were going to be expected to deliver this process.”
The truth has to be told, Rowan continued, but it has to be approached from what is achievable in terms of investigation or information.
He continued: “We need to make a proper conversation about what the information process should look like: who is going to cooperate, who is going to run away, who is going to help?”
Since the use of the consensus is an excuse to not address the past, Rowan argued, the best place to find out the information would be an international team that will put in place those conversations not yet made.
He remarked upon the huge responsibility of the media, churches, community leaders, and people of loyalist and republican backgrounds in terms of addressing the past.
Questions time was converted in a conversation between the attendees, including fellow journalists, about what’s happened or not in this regard, and the best way to approach the future.