‘When we blame ourselves we feel that no one else has the right to blame us’ so said Oscar Wilde. Recently, listening to the Prime Minister apologising for the transportation of orphaned children to Australia in the 1940’s and 1950’s one could not help but think what’s the point? Why accept blame for something that was not your fault?
But it’s a growing practice amongst the political chattering classes.
Of course the fate of those transported as children to Australia was terrible and unjust but Gordon Brown wasn’t responsible; – so what’s the point of apologising for something you did not do? In fact one can’t apologise for such things.
The best one can do is express regret.
We are all people of our time and it’s much more appropriate to accept responsibility for the things we got wrong, not our ancestors. It’s all too easy to apologise for the historical actions of the dead- instead of facing up to the consequences of the actions affecting those here and now.
Northern Ireland is not the best starting point for this argument as we have been coerced into accepting collective blame for the wrong doings of those actually responsible for sectarianism, terrorism, discrimination and paramilitarism. Thanks to perverse political thinking in both Britain and Ireland, we have lionised the culprits; given them a collective absolution and allowed ourselves to be portrayed as acquiescent collaborators.
The crisis over child abuse allegations in the Catholic Church rightly merits actual investigation, accountability and acceptance of culpability; yet because it’s an institution and easy target- the media on slaught is unrelenting. No such sustained torch light has been held to those who murdered, maimed and tortured thousands of people in Northern Ireland, Britain and the Republic over the past thirty years.
Despite the fact that there is n’t a carpet capable of hiding such dirt; it seems the architects of the peace process maintain that no matter how unsightly- all dirt must fit under the Northern Ireland carpet of expediency.
The charade of a Victims Commission masks the issues of accountability and justice. The notion of ‘live’ investigations into historical crimes is just that as we are continually reminded we cannot police the past and the present…
Ridiculously we are told that there is now such a thing as an acceptable level of violence. Hysterically we are told that the potential Edgar J Hoover chosen to face up to our recent but embarrassing legacy of injustice could be a pet poodle picked by the main protagonists of our agony; from a party with less than 6% of the popular vote, whose influence is confined Greater Belfast and who is being touted as the best we can get to achieve cross community confidence!
The proposed Justice Ministry is likely to end up looking like a House of Straw designed under the Munich Pact and led by a Scarecrow; when we need a judicial coliseum governed by Solomon and enforced by the strength of Samson.
So better for the British to apologise for the famine than accept responsibility for an amnesty for the ‘on the runs’; better for militant republicans to apologise the loss of civilian lives than do the time for their murders and better for loyalists to apologise for their poor golfing handicaps than those they continue to handicap.
Ironically in Ireland; let down by trusted institutions, people are searching for openness, transparency and accountability but their targets are prejudiced and conditioned by those who want to set the agenda; not those who want to be accountable to the same standards. Politicians and the media often ride moral outrage as much as they cause it.
Americans seem able to apologise for slavery practices but not the exploitation of third world workers who produce their consumer goods just as our former paramilitaries appear able to apologise for their participation in atrocities but not accept the justified penalties. Naturally the threshold for domestic political responsibility is now set so high that even Susan Boyle could do the limbo! The perverse logic that there are no more political bogeymen because all the bogeymen are now in government blurs the demarcation lines of good and bad. No wonder we are increasingly disengaged.
It seems safe territory for modern politicians to apologise for historical acts like the Colonization of the Americas; the Inquistion; the culling of wolves in Britain or even the shortage of life boats on the Titanic. Unfortunately, apologies, however sincere, are not substitutes for responsibility or real justice.