Professional historians will be wary of terms like these for writing an Official History of Trouble – Slugger O’Toole


The Daily Telegraph reports it …

An official story of the Troubles will be commissioned as part of the government’s plans, lest the narrative of the conflict be distorted by the Republicans.

It would also focus on the role of the British government and military in the 30-year sectarian conflict, including the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, when 13 civilians were killed by the troops.

If approved, the official story project will complement a package of measures announced earlier this year to move away from prosecuting crimes committed prior to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and towards information retrieval and reconciliation for the victims.

Approached for comment Saturday night, Whitehall sources insisted that official history would be independent of ministers and would involve appointing historians to produce a balanced historical account.

It is expected to cause a backlash from Sinn Fein, the nationalist party historically associated with the IRA during the Troubles.

It also risks further tightening relations with Dublin, which has already stated that the “amnesty” of the Troubles threatens to undermine the peace agreements. and could face a legal challenge be taken to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Under plans drawn up by the Northern Ireland Office, a group of historians would be appointed by the government under the terms of the private council to undertake the project.

The Telegraph understands that ministers are also considering asking the Northern Ireland Centennial Historic Advisory Committee, chaired by historian Lord Bew, to lend its expertise.

If these terms are described correctly, the project seems politicized from the start. Few historians – none that I know of – would accept terms that take the flawed and frankly ridiculous approach of simply countering the Sinn Fein narrative. Irish history writing for nearly a century has been excellent because it has been genuinely independent. Professional history writing was never the problem; It is the use or abuse that has been made of it by rival parties.

But let’s not exaggerate. Access to state archives could be more open if accompanied by a de facto amnesty, provided the identities of the living are protected and whistleblowers are exempt from civil action. This would be the compromise. Is this what the government has in mind?

How “independent” would it be? “Private Advice Terms” means that you agree to keep secret details secret if you have been given a view for confirmation purposes. Certain restrictions, as long as they are declared, would be unavoidable to protect identities and national security methods still in place. And national security is no longer the general ban it once was. However, the UK government has consistently refused to define national security limits with respect to allegations of collusion. In order for this project to have a chance, they should be clear.

The UK’s official wartime stories enjoy an excellent reputation. They are never the whole story from two sides, but they tap into domestic sources. A history of problems is bound to be different. The rival parties have already provided a lot of material while keeping many secrets. So can we have more all-round openness?

What use would be made of the Commission’s long-stalled report on flags, identity, culture and tradition that covers Northern Ireland itself beyond the Whitehall point of view?

Lord Paul Bew is appointed consultant. As a pillar of the establishment – he is currently chairman of the Lords Appointments Commission – he is presumably trusted in Whitehall. While he is of a unionist bent, he is highly respected in his professional ability as a professor emeritus of politics at Queen’s with a high reputation as a contemporary historian which I am sure he would never jeopardize. It will be very interesting to know how he responds.

Bloody Friday photography


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