The truth, the hole truth,
and something like the truth
The BBC’s “Facing the Truth” programme,
aired in early March, has been controversial in relation to
dealing with the past in Northern Ireland. Desmond Tutu chaired
a small panel which oversaw the bringing together of victims/survivors
and perpetrators. Was it ‘good’ (= riveting) television?
Yes. Was it ‘good’ (= useful) television? Yes
and no, largely depending on the stage that ‘victims’
and perpetrators’ were at when they sat down.
Where the two sides, however that might be defined,
had already worked through the issues to be at a useful stage
to meet and seal a kind of reconciliation and forgiveness,
then it felt fine, another stage on the road to survival and
recovery. The pain of grief and loss at losing a loved one
never leaves you and this is incredibly stronger when the
death is a traumatic one. Of course people can move on, time
heals some wounds, and there was certainly an amazing amount
of courage shown by all those involved. But in the case of
the final programme the cameras did feel intrusive, it did
not feel things were at a stage to be captured by the cameras.
Television often makes us feel like voyeurs, that is part
of its attraction and the whole of its attraction in ‘reality’
programmes, but to be made feel like a dirty voyeur is a step
too far in a situation where there is real grief and a huge
amount of real healing to be done. Some of the final programme
also felt like trying to put a sticking plaster on a gaping
wound; it is certainly not helpful and might in some way hinder
the healing process.
There were cases where those involved had already
moved on to a very significant extent. There was a sister
whose brother had been killed by a British soldier, he had
already been seeking forgiveness and for her it was conditional
on recognition that he was not an IRA man; the soldier recognised
he could have made a mistake. An English policeman shot and
seriously wounded by an IRA man had recovered, we were not
told whether fully, but sufficiently to move on with his life
and was able to be genuinely philosophical and good natured
about it despite the emotion involved (the fact that it was
not the death of a loved one presumably made this less difficult
but you could also see the individual’s nature at work).
These were people who were ready to meet and be reconciled
face to face because they had already done most of the work.
For’give’ness is a gift, whether
you consider it in secular or religious terms. It is not something
that you can decide on logically (though you can decide you
should forgive, which is not the same thing). And it is especially
not something which you can be told to do. It is deep down
in the human personality, deep in an individual’s emotions
where it comes when it comes. Of course personality, beliefs,
circumstances and so on affect it, and we have had some amazing
examples in the Troubles when the loved ones of a victim pronounced
forgiveness almost straight away. But forgiveness and reconciliation,
however much they can be worked on and facilitated, cannot
be forced. There was a risk with some of this series that
it was seeking too easy a reconciliation at too early a stage.
And that can set back healing and be unnecessarily traumatic.
A quiet week at the
Section 419 factory
It must have been a quiet week. I was only offered $91.389
million commission for handling $396.3 million (the uneven
figures are because one or two of the sums were in UK£)
– some weeks I think it’s probably rather more.
You know, those e-mails promising endless wealth for opening
a bank account and facilitating the transfer of millions of
dollars to ‘my’ location. They all seem to think
I’m honest (which is a bad thing if they want me to
do some illegal money dealing and handling of dodgy money).
Named after the section (419) of the Nigerian criminal code
which outlaws them, there are a number of common themes.
Disaster is one common theme, a husband/parents/children
killed in some terrible disaster (sometimes referenced to
a web report of a real disaster – which doesn’t
prove anything except that disaster actually happened), e.g.
“My father was captured and murdered along with half
brother in cool blood during a midnight rebel shoot out”.
Oh dear, that’s not so cool. Resultantly, the writer
is looking for someone to accept the money and they came across
me as being ‘honest and trustworthy’. Through
a spam e-mail? One recent offering even managed to build in
Irish racism (touches of realism are always a winner) –
the child of Irish-Black American parents, born in Ethiopia,
they had not returned to Ireland after their mother brought
them to her family in the Mrald Oil and “they made mockery
of us as we visited, which made us return to ERITERA”.
XX years later, his wife and three children killed in an accident,
he wants someone to take control of his legacies. Pull the
other legacy. The writers might however have a future winning
short story competitions for imagination scenarios if they
ever give up the scamming.
They also build in deliberate errors, or are
deliberately careless with spelling and grammar, to make it
look like the person writing is unsophisticated. “I
know this massage will come to you as a surprise” –
no, not really, I get dozens like it in a week, though there’s
nothing like a good rub down or is it a rub over or rub out
(citizens who end up paying ‘fees’ for the release
of ‘their’ money and pursue their quarry to Nigeria
can end up kidnapped – for more money! – or even
murdered). One 22-year old ‘deaf woman’ even offered
“…I will come and live with you as a partner and
I’m ready to do anything of your choice.” My choice?
Not to get involved beyond having a bit of a laugh at human
You would think at this stage in the history
of the internet there would be nobody who had not twigged
that it was all one ginormous scam. But if the number of people
still at it is any indication, there must be people still
responding and sending “bank fees”, storage fees,
legal fees or maybe a “bribe to a bank official”,
or whatever they ask for so that the non-existent enormous
sum of money can be released. The credulous are stalked by
But the other fun part of it is those whose
hobby it is to scam the scammers, well at least lead them
up various garden paths, feeding them incredulous stories
back. One sometimes humorous example is at http://www.geocities.com/scambaiter2003
You have to admire the energy of someone who takes so much
time to scam scammers though I think I might prefer to do
something a bit more useful. Still. human greed, you can’t
beat it for making eejits of us and getting us to suspend
our critical faculties [I thought ‘suspending critical
faculties’ was done by university chiefs to departments
under threat in university reorganisations? – Ed] [Yes,
but that’s academic – Billy].
The comparison is a bit over the top but an Irish study by
a professor of psychology at the Royal College of Surgeons
in Dublin showed senior managers to have a quality of life
“lower than any group of patients we looked at, including
those who are terminally ill and those with motor-neuron disease.”
And “Newly appointed managers had a lower quality of
life than patients with osteo-arthritis and peptic ulcers”.
(Irish Times 1/3/06). I suppose it all depends what criteria
you use and what questions you ask. If you asked the terminally
ill would they like to swap with a senior manager, even knowing
the pressures on them, the answer would be an unequivocal
yes, and the answer the other way around would be an equally
But there are important issues here. These managers
are expected to be available 24/7 and the stress and pressure
can be enormous. They don’t have only themselves to
blame, particularly in the culture of the Cultic Tie-Grrrrrrr
(it’s interesting that the use of the term, ‘Protestant
work ethic’ seems to have disappeared in Ireland since
the Tiger roared).
In reality what we need is the ‘greening’
of Ireland. If we can’t have the unsustainable growth
we have been so busy pursuing (and we can’t in the longer
term or even in the shorter term without messing up the globe
and its inhabitants) and if the cake cannot get bigger and
in fact needs to get smaller, then a number of issues come
into focus. One is the redistribution of wealth so fat Celtic
cats get a bit leaner and the share out is more equitable
(who is going to settle for an unfair slice of a diminishing
cake? Not me nor a lot of other people). But another implication
is either an end to the ideology of consumerism, as least
as we know it, or its redefinition - and that cannot be a
bad thing. And if consumerism is out the window, what do we
replace it with? I could suggest all sorts of values but one
basic one would certainly be work/life balance.
To this end, people could generally work less
or work in more fulfilling tasks some or all the time. They
would have significant time for other activities including
recreation and self-fulfilment, whether they chose to use
it constructively or not (sitting in front of the television
for long periods is not particularly constructive but may
be some people’s choice). Currently, most people are
probably too tired at the end of their day’s labours
to think about creative activities and beyond their immediate
With this ‘greening’ we might not
end up wealthier but we would be healthier in a number of
different ways and happier too. The transition would not be
easy but if we made it then we would look back in amazement
at how captive we were to the gods of greed, plastic and metal.
We don’t need a ‘section 419’ e-mail to
make us greedy, it’s already firmly imprinted on our
early 21st century consciousnesses and consciences (or lack
- - - - - - - - -
Right, that’s me for now, I
hope spring has sprung for you in your step, it’s great
to see the longer evenings so it may be light when you’re
heading out, even if only out to the garden after dinner.
Ciao agus slán, Billy.
is Billy King? A long, long time ago, in a more
innocent age (just talking about myself you understand),
there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train'
and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor
has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write
a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able
to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor
around with you).
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).