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Slugger versus The Past

Patrick Corrigan
9 February 2009

Patrick Corrigan (Amnesty Blogs: Belfast and Beyond): Slugger O'Toole is the daddy of the Northern Irish blogosphere. Founded and run by the inestimable Mick Fealty as a uniquely popular, cross-community blog for debate and discussion of NI politics and life, it is always worth a visit. 

Politics in Northern Ireland is generally a bearpit and, while Slugger's comment zone sometimes dips to sectarian whataboutery, its lead bloggers are an eclectic and generally high-quality bunch of pundits from across the spectrum. Mick's 'ball not man' rule generally suffices to keep order. Maybe it could be extended to the NI Assembly.

Mick and team are always on the lookout for the next big thing in applying the online to the offline. Last year's inaugural Slugger Awards (in which I played a very small supporting role) was a fine example of how the blogetariat can offer encouragement to all that is good in politics, journalism and, indeed, blogging.

Now Slugger is taking on the past. Or, more precisely, the blog-site is expanding its horizons to offering a specific blog-style website for responses from the public to the report from Northern Ireland's Consultative Group on the Past.

The 190-page report was published 12 days ago. It offered up some thirty-one recommendations on how Northern Ireland's recent, four-decades worth of bloody history might be addressed, so as to help ensure that our past does not become our future.

Yet, it was just one of those recommendations which attracted the lion's share of political, media and public attention - the idea that the next of kin of each of the 3,700 fatalities of the conflict should be offered a payment of £12,000 in recognition of their loss. In the words of co-chair Denis Bradley, it would be a way of society of saying, in the style of the hackneyed, but often heartfelt, utterance at Irish wakes and funerals: 'we're sorry for your troubles'.

Given the widespread outrage - some of it politically-manufactured, some of it utterly real - at the idea of equating the loss attached to the death of a non-combatant with that of a combatant, it seems that the government has now all but rejected the idea of such 'recognition payments'.

Slugger's intervention is thus timely, in that, two weeks on, there will now, perhaps, be the opportunity to properly study and respond to the other thirty recommendations from the 'Eames/Bradley Group'. Amnesty has already made its views known on the report: we welcome much of it, but are extremely concerned at the idea of effective impunity being offered to those responsible for human rights violations in exchange for information about those abuses. Read more here.

Meanwhile, I would encourage OurKingdom readers to visit Slugger's special website and to take part in this unique experiment in online consultation. Let us hope that, in some small way, this effort will help deliver the justice, truth and reconciliation that Northern Ireland still needs.

Another opportunity to consider Eames/Bradley and whether it is fit for purpose will come at the Amnesty-sponsored Convention on Modern Liberty, Belfast, to be held at Queen's University Belfast on Saturday 28 February.

One of the day's many fascinating sessions will focus on 'Truth, justice and dealing with the past' and will feature contributions from the rather brilliant Prof Kieran McEvoy and one-time Amnesty Belfast office volunteer Dr Louise Mallinder, author of the recently-published modern classic, 'Amnesty, Human Rights and Political Transitions: Bridging the Peace and Justice Divide'.

Registration (£12 / £6 students) for the Convention available via QUB School of Law at: [email protected].

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