THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT

29 April 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

There is a complex weave of feelings in this country towards the British Royal Family.
Commonly, we profess puzzlement, and often amusement, at the preoccupation of the British people and its media with the activities of its royals. It seems a strange mixture of lionisation and leering: anachronistic deference strolling hand in hand with prurient privacy invasion.
Yet the fact that one Irish television broadcaster, TV3, will provide extensive coverage of Friday’s royal wedding suggests that some degree of that fascination has impregnated our own culture.
This undoubtedly owes less to history than it does to the modern phenomenon of celebrity culture, with regal privilege carrying with it the same hypnotic glitter for Irish eyes as that attaching to the rich and famous of the entertainment and sporting spheres.
But it is history and all its legacies that shades and darkens the Irish disposition towards the family of Windsor. And, even leaving history aside, the concept of royalty, even in the ceremonial sense that the British system of governance perpetuates, is offensive to the republican principles upon which our nationhood has been constructed.
All these attitudes and emotions will be sharpened next month on the occasion of the first State visit of the British Queen to these shores. The visit is inarguably significant, because of the new ground it breaks between neighbouring countries. The manner in which it is conducted will also be extremely important.
There is a warm and fascinated welcome awaiting the Queen for the various public dimensions of the visit. She is after all one of the most instantly recognisable people on the planet. And it is important that the many Irish people who wish to extend that welcome and participate in the occasion do so free of discomfort and ridicule, for that is their entitlement.
It is equally important that those who are critical of the visit and wish to express that criticism in a principled and civilised manner that eschews confrontation and aggression are allowed to do so with equal freedom.
The Queen’s visit is historic. But whether it will deliver more than symbolically upon the aspirations for reconciliation that some would make for it is contestable.
For the Justice for the Forgotten Group, the visit has prompted a renewed call on the British Government to release documentation withheld from previous inquiries into the circumstances of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in May 1974.
A recent statement by the organisation, noting the “extraordinary coincidence” of the Queen arriving on the 37th anniversary of the atrocity, requested British Prime Minister David Cameron to avail of “a golden opportunity to make a genuinely significant gesture of reconciliation.”
The official silence maintained for almost twenty years about the events that brought about the single greatest toll of life in the history of the Troubles stained a blot on the integrity of law enforcement and government on this and the neighbouring island.
That blot has been smeared rather than effaced by the limited co-operation extended to a series of inquiries which began in the 1990s, the most recent of which, producing the MacEntee Report of 2007, complained of missing documentation from Garda files and the refusal by some British authorities to comply with the investigative procedure. The shameful shadow of collusion has never been dispelled.
Very important strides have in recent years been made towards building a sustainable peace on this island. The depth of public repulsion and repudiation incited by the recent murder of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr testified to the strength of the individual investment the vast majority of Irish people of all traditions have made in this regard.
But it is dangerous to leave unhealed wounds such as those inflicted by the murder of innocent people in Monaghan Town on May 17, 1974. Attempts at conflict resolution in other parts of the world suggest strongly that their most painful episodes must be brought fully into the light before those who suffered as a consequence of conflicts can heal and their societies move on in freedom.
Just as victims have rights that are not diminished by the passage of time, so those who profess themselves to be the makers and guardians of peace have responsibilities, some of them very onerous.
If it is to be more than merely an insensitive coincidence, the timing of the Queen’s visit should, in the interests of justice, prompt some meaningful response from both the British and the Irish Governments to the request made by Justice for the Forgotten.
This newspaper has previously called for the establishment of an independent investigative commission to examine the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and other murders and atrocities perpetrated on this island over the last half-decade over which unanswered questions hang.
It is a call we feel appropriate to renew at this particular time in the hope that our Oireachtas representatives will deem it worthy of pursuing in close liaison with the victims’ groups on the island who have also argued for its establishment, and who have evolved in some detail a potential formula for the implementation of such an approach.
In the game of chess, the opening strategy known as The Queen’s Gambit is more often declined than accepted.
The people represented by Justice for the Forgotten, and other individuals and groups in this country who have painful questions about the years of conflict still unresolved, deserve some meaningful response to them in the context of the diplomatic gambit that the Queen’s visit to Ireland represents.
Only when the answers are provided to their satisfaction will reconciliation on sustainable, mutually respectful terms be accomplished.

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