Maurice Hayes calls for end to inquiries
14 June 2007
The former senior civil servant Maurice Hayes has called for an end to inquiries into British state involvement in violence during the period of “the Troubles”. He made his call when delivering the annual Tip O'Neill Peace Lecture at the University of Ulster's Magee campus in Derry. In delivering this lecture, he was the following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Bill Clinton, Bertie Ahern, Kofi Annan and John Kerry.
Speaking on the theme of 'Moving Out Of Conflict' Hayes put forward a number of arguments. The main one was that inquires into past events, such as Bloody Sunday, had a destabilising effect on the current political structures in the North. He claimed that the will of the people for the power sharing institutions to work could be frustrated “if we insist on picking at the sores of old wounds”. According to Hayes there was “a lot to be said for drawing the line, in order to let politics and mutual trust develop”. He used a gardening metaphor to illustrate his point, describing the institutions as a “delicate graft on a rootstock riddled with memories of sectarian struggles, deeply rooted in centuries of animosity.” Piling on the horticultural imagery he warned his audience that was a “real danger that the graft might not take if there is too much scrabbling in the underground looking for evidence of the bad husbandry or the criminal neglect of yesteryear.” He signalled out the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday as an example of this arguing that it would not “unearth the essential truth, the definitive account of the events on Bloody Sunday” and that there were “many better things” that could have been done with the £200m spent on it.
Hayes presented no alternative mechanism through which victims of state violence could get justice. His essential argument to them was to forget about it. This came out more explicitly in the interviews that followed his lecture. This most revealing one was on UTV Live on which the interviewer, in an increasingly rare example of journalistic probing, got Hayes to reveal the true essence of his argument. The interviewer started by pointing out to Hayes that the majority of legal costs of the Saville Inquiry were claimed by the MOD’s defence team. He also made the point that the various inquiries were failing because of the refusal of the British Government to co-operate with them. Hayes tried to bat this away by retreating into the tired old contribution of two sides equally to blame, and recycling the myth that republicans fired the first shots on Bloody Sunday. The interviewer came back at Hayes pointing out that there were more than two sides and that state security forces had a role in violence. When accused of letting the state away with murder Hayes claimed that “maybe that is the cost to pay”. Growing increasingly angry and exasperated Hayes shouted at the interviewer that people should “stop poking”.
Stripped of all folksy gardening metaphors this is what Hayes’ argument boiled down to – “stop poking”. In the interests of peace, nationalists would just have to accept the repressive measures of the British state. Not just in relation to the past but also in the present and future. Also any aspiration towards equality, never mind ending partition, has to be abandoned so as not to upset the unionists. In his lecture, Hayes advises nationalists to "put the constitutional issue in baulk for a period". As succour, he offers the old John Hume line about the border being irrelevant, arguing that it has "virtually disappeared, shrunken to a line on the map, of significance only to the political geographer, the constitutional lawyer and the law enforcement officer." If there is to be a united Ireland it will be brought about not through political struggle, but through development of capitalism on the island - the "free movement" of capital and labour.
In putting forward these arguments Hayes, who is an Irish senator and formerly the most senior Catholic in the NI Civil Service, is giving voice to the concerns of the Irish ruling class and the better off section off the nationalist population in the North. They are quite happy with the current settlement that maintains partition and inequality. The reason. they are opposed to inquires into the past is because these events are not in the past at all put are ongoing. The repressive apparatus of the state is still in place, the loyalist paramilitaries are still intact and armed, and collusion between the two continues. The recent Police Ombudsman report into police agent and UVF leader Mark Haddock demonstrates this, as does the efforts to legitimise, indeed to subsidise, the loyalist presence in Protestant communities. They are quite ready to go back to killing Catholics again if there is a perceived threat to the state. The only reason they are relatively quiet at the moment is that nationalist parties have capitulated so completely. If the peace is to continue, these capitulations will have to continue. For example, the justification for the enquiries themselves is posed in psychological terms as bringing closure. This is because the political demand, the end of the British presence that caused the deaths, is no longer an issue for the nationalist groups. Though the SDLP and Sinn Fein called for the inquiries into state involvement in violence, they will be compelled to accept the inevitable whitewashed conclusions that will come out of them. To reject them and press further would be to risk bringing the whole edifice of the peace process crashing down. While they may criticise the type of arguments made by Hayes now, it the near future they will be repeating them.