The 40th anniversary of 1968 is being widely commemorated, but few have focused on the events of the civil rights marches in Derry in 1968, which ignited the conflict in Ireland. While the ‘Troubles’ may have subsided, the 40th anniversary of the Derry riots coincides with an outbreak of hostilities over how the conflict should be remembered.
The British government this year set up the bizarrely titled ‘Consultative Group on The Past’, led by former Church of Ireland primate Lord Robin Eames and former Policing Board vice Chair Denis Bradley, charged with the unenviable task of proposing ways of dealing with the ‘legacy of the Troubles’ and finding a commonly agreed way of defining the conflict. Traditionally, Republicans argued the IRA was waging a legitimate campaign against occupation, while Unionists and the government branded them terrorists. More recently, influential revisionist historians like Paul Bew and Roy Foster have emphasised the sectarian character of the conflict, rather than its political content.
How have recent events, from the peace process to the introduction of a power-sharing government at Stormont, affected the way we interpret the past? Do the victors get to write the history of the Troubles; do new interpretations simply reflect the prejudices of the present? Why did young people join the IRA, and what kept the conflict going for so long? Should we seek to reassess the conflict, or is it time to move on and forget?
|Dr Kevin Bean
lecturer, Irish politics, Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool; author, The New Politics of Sinn Féin
interim director, European Animal Research Campaign Centre; government affairs, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry
editor Fourthwrite magazine; northern organiser Independent Workers Union, Ireland
Why is the British left so shocked about the events in Northern Ireland portrayed in Steve McQueen's powerful film, Hunger?Kirk Leech, Guardian Comment is Free, 21 October 2008
While politicians get the credit for stabilizing Northern Ireland, we should be more grateful to the civil servants – and the spooksGeorge Brock, Times Literary Supplement, 27 February 2008
The book explores how the Republican movement has changed from an anti-state insurgency to a potential partner in governing the state it was pledged to destroy. In particular, the book attempts to consider the origins of what has become known as 'New Sinn Fein'.
Kevin Bean, Liverpool University Press, 15 November 2007
The Northern Ireland conflict is now fought over the lessons of the Troubles. One apparent lesson is that only extremists can make deals stick. But perhaps the real conclusion is that the late-colonial British did not properly study their own historyDean Godson, Prospect, November 2007