Yesterday, I woke to the horror of a piece of recent British history that I was completely unaware of – the sending away of the British children to Australia purely to “unburden” the British authorities.
Australia was a young sparsely populated country in need of more people for its development. In those days, the Australians did not want Asian immigrants. What better way to enhance that development than to import children of white Anglo-Saxon British stock? It probably seemed like a reasonable arrangement at the time.
Fast forward to 2009. The Australian Government has now apologised for its part in the ordeal and it appears that Gordon Brown is now about to apologise for the British side of the arrangement.
This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that a politician has apologised for events that he personally he had nothing to do with. In 1970, the West German Chancellor Brandt expressed sorrow and Germany’s responsibility for the holocaust. The late Pope Jean-Paul II apologised for the treatment of Galileo by the Catholic Church. In 2000, Tony Blair apologised for the wrongful conviction of the Guildford four. In 2003, the Queen gave an apology for the ethnic cleansing brought about by the deportation of Acadians in Nova Scotia in 1755. A couple of months ago, Gordon Brown apologised for the treatment of Alan Turing, a code breaker during the Second World War. In 1954, he committed suicide after being prosecuted for homosexuality and then being forcibly treated with female hormones. The overwhelming majority of these political apologies have happened in the last 40 years.
Political apologies have a purpose. Taking responsibility for an event, even when a politician had nothing to do with it, is a way of contributing to the healing process felt by victims.
Ah, you might ask how can anybody be a victim when the wrongdoing happened before they were born?
A “victim” for these purposes does not have to be the person who suffered the wrong directly. It can be a relation or a group which inherits a communal memory which affects relationships amongst the living many years later.
Is there anything to apologise for in Northern Ireland in 2009? If so, who should do the apologising and when should it be done?
The apologies, if they are going to be made, have to be considered very carefully. An apology should be saved for the time that it is going to make the most impact. It certainly is not a good time to apologise if the “victim” or communal victim is not going to be able to accept the apology and move on.
There are various groups or parties in Northern Ireland that have some apologising to do. If they are interested in better community relations, then now is the time to plan their apology. I am not going to single out any group or party here. Those reading this post will be able to think of plenty of wrongs which politicians should take responsibility for. My specific interest is in relation to the British Government. Does it have anything to apologise for in relation to Northern Ireland?
In 2002, Tony Blair apologised to the people of Ireland for British conduct during the potato famine. That was a good start and it went down well with people in the Republic of Ireland. Is there anything else the Government could do?
I don’t wish to gainsay the findings of the Saville report. However, I suspect there could be some adverse findings against the British Army. If there are such findings, then the apologies should be without hesitation and be as remorseful as it is possible for a Government to be.
There is, however, one particular event or series of events for which the British Government does have some responsibility – a fact which does affect community relations today. It is a fact that before 1972, the British Government neglected Northern Ireland in terms of its failure to intervene against democratic and civil rights abuses.
When the Conservatives win power, I would like to see such an apology being made on behalf of the British Government but timing and sensitivity is extremely important.
If it is not handled correctly, it will incur adverse criticism, as happened when two years ago, Peter Hain apologised for the role that Wales and Northern Ireland played in the slave trade. Now that the UUP is in alliance with the Conservatives, it is essential that they are involved in the planning of that apology and that they are ready to make their own as well.
Filed under: civil rights, Conservative Party, Normal Politics, Northern ireland, Northern Ireland politics, Republic of Ireland, sectarianism, Tony Blair, UUP Tagged: | civil rights, Conservative Party, Gerrymandering, Normal Politics, Northern ireland, Northern Ireland politics, Peter Hain, Political apologies, Republic of Ireland, sectarianism, Tony Blair, Tory-UUP linkup, UUP