William Scholes: No more Troubles secrets should be lost to the grave

Suzanne Townley and Archie McConville, children of Jean McConville, who was 'disappeared' by the IRA in 1972, attended the Palm Sunday Mass for the Disappeared at St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh. Picture by Cliff Donaldson.

TODAY, Good Friday, is an especially significant day for Christians everywhere.

Unbelievers will always struggle to see the 'good' in the horrific public suffering of Jesus' final hours.

Yet the struggle on the Via Dolorosa to Calvary and the crucifixion itself, where the innocent was condemned for the guilty, are made 'good' in the resurrection and the Easter Sunday's empty tomb.

One reason the story of Jesus' death and resurrection has echoed through the centuries with such intensity is that it resonates with us all at some deep, human level.

Those ideas of suffering and sacrifice, of death and redemption, that are writ large in the Gospels and underlined at the Cross, seem to have particular potency within Irish society, where the right to a Christian burial and the acts of public commemoration and community solidarity with the bereaved are also strongly held.

Martin McGuinness's funeral was a vivid example of all this, and more.

Thousands filled the Bogside to pay their respects to the IRA leader-turned-statesman, feting a peacemaker whose latter years were characterised by acts such as befriending Ian Paisley, meeting Queen Elizabeth, condemning dissident republicans as traitors and leading Sinn Féin at Stormont.

Much of the commentary assessing Mr McGuinness's life framed these gestures as being all the more impressive because of his republican credentials, without paying too much heed to what those credentials were built upon - namely, a key role in a violent paramilitary campaign which cost hundreds and hundreds of lives.

Mr McGuinness was one of the most significant figures in recent Irish history, and was clearly a complex character whose life was full of apparent contradictions.

Most people will find it hard to reconcile, for example, his obvious devotion to faith and family, or his personal charm and warmth, with the other qualities that made him an effective IRA commander.

There are those who believe that Mr McGuinness's latter years are evidence that he had repented from those past acts of commission and omission; equally, there are those who regard the peace-processing years as a continuum with the Troubles rather than a volte face, and that the republican movement changed tack because it realised it could not win its 'war' against the British.

We are left to draw our own conclusions; the truth of whether or not he experienced a change of heart of simply employed new tactics has, in the absence of clear testimony from Mr McGuinness himself, gone to the grave with him.

Who knows what other secrets he has taken with him?

With 'legacy issues' - a peace process euphemism if ever there was one - still unresolved, it is a question worth posing.

Sinn Féin, correctly, demands, with others, that the British state should be held to account for any wrongdoing during the Troubles. However, republicans need to do more to right their wrongs.

In the litany of bloody disaster written during the Troubles, some of the deepest wounds were those inflicted on the Disappeared - an inadequate term for those subjected to the medieval horror of being abducted, murdered and buried in a secret grave.

The remains have been recovered of 12 of the 16 people on the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains' list of the Disappeared.

Those of Joe Lynskey, Robert Nairac, Seamus Ruddy and Columba McVeigh have not been found and given the courtesy of a Christian burial.

The IRA was responsible for 13 of the deaths, with a further one admitted by the INLA and two more unattributed. All were Catholics.

Their relatives gather for Mass each Palm Sunday - "hoping against hope," as Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin told them, "that even at this late stage someone will come forward with fresh or more precise information" to help in the search.

As well as being deeply personal to everyone affected by the Troubles, legacy issues and dealing with the past are political problems, and have formed part of the latest lacklustre Stormont talks process.

There is a deep need to address this so, as Archbishop Martin put it, "the dead can rest peacefully in their graves, that the bereaved and injured can find healing, and that a just and lasting foundation can be put in place on which an honest and shared future can be built for us all".

Sinn Féin has sought to refashion the Troubles as a fight for equality, dignity and respect, though it has yet to adequately address how it squares this with what republicans did to the Disappeared.

Tackling the unanswered Troubles questions of who, what and why are central to helping move our society from its Gethsemane towards a brighter future. Those questions do not disappear with death, whether that of a British soldier or a senior republican.


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