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Earl Storey interviews journalist Susan McKay

Earl Storey interviews journalist Susan McKay

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Published by: Topstorey Communications on Jun 05, 2012
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Faith matters

Religious Affairs Correspondent: William Scholes tel: 028 9033 7544 email: w.scholes@irishnews.com

Mercy principal celebrates her golden jubilee
PRINCIPAL of Our Lady Of Mercy Primary School Sr Frances Forde celebrates her golden jubilee in Holy Cross parish hall in Ardoyne, north Belfast, with past pupil Gemma Corr, baby Aodhinne and Margret McGee. The occasion was marked for Sr Frances at Mass on August 19. This was followed by a reception in the hall at where parishioners congratulated Sr Frances. After many years as a headteacher she dedicated herself to parish ministry in a voluntary capacity in the Legion of Mary and the care of bereaved. She has also led a most productive prayer ministry and instructed many converts and children in the sacraments.

Troubles legacy brought to book – but questions remain
What right do the Churches have to be involved in dealing with the legacy of the Troubles? Not much, Irish News columnist Susan McKay tells Earl Storey
HAT is it like for a woman to have lived all her life waiting for a son to come back then to discover he has actually been lying in a bog for all those years? As she describes the pain of the mother of Columba McVeigh, one of the Disappeared, Susan McKay gives a voice and human face to the suffering of the Troubles. Reflecting on her experience as a journalist covering some of the most tragic events of the Troubles she recognises that “for the family that story was only really beginning at the point where it ended for the journalist”. Susan McKay believes it is vital that we do not just simply walk away from the past. “The sheer brutality of what went on in all those years – it needs to be not forgotten,” she says. “We need to try and learn something from it and not let it pass.” She talks of the past as being an embarrassment to some. “It is an embarrassment of course to Northern Ireland people in political power – the sort of things that were done,” she says. “People being shot in the back as they fed their animals, being blown up in front of their children. “People being shot dead in front of their families at the dinner table, people being stripped and left at the side of the road with a sign round their neck saying ‘Tout’.” While being grateful for the political process, McKay remarks that “the smiles at Stormont are great... but it’s important not to forget what went on to lead to the situation”. “Always after a conflict there is a tendency for the politicians to clean it up, clean up the history,” she says. But does dealing with the past endanger progress in the present? Her answer is clear. “A lot of injustice has been done to people who have already paid the highest price for the conflict in the north and now people in power are saying ‘We have to leave it all behind in the interests of the stability of the peace’,” she says. “As if somehow finding out what happened is going to collapse the government. “I don’t think that the agreement is so fragile that the truth emerging about what happened to people in the Troubles is going to knock it apart.” On asking McKay why looking at the past is so important she stresses the consequences for the future of not doing so. “If people’s sense of injustice and anger isn’t addressed then that’s storing up trouble for the future,” she says. She feels that it was a process of “acknowledging what happened and being determined to never create conditions that could ever give rise to such a situation again and acknowledging that there are people who are very badly hurt who need our respect”. McKay talks of some of the very murky things are beginning to emerge, including collusion. ally making these decisions? Susan McKay has difficult things to say about the newly established bodies that have been set up to address different aspects of the legacy of the Troubles. Her view of the Victims Commission and its inception is that it is “a total fiasco... the DUP and Sinn Fein were simply unable to agree on a person so therefore they have put in place this completely unworkable [entity]”. Apart from the difficulty of defining its work or being clear how the commission is going to make decisions she felt there was a danger that we may “get people selecting the commissioner according to their own political background”. Feeling that the matter has become so sectarianised, she concludes that “it would have been symbolically significant if the DUP and Sinn Fein had been able to agree on a candidate but the fact that they weren’t says it all”. Moving on to the Eames-Bradley Commission she describes it as “another peculiar body”. While not wanting to prejudge it she felt that the motivation for this initiative was to stall for time. Describing it as a leadership issue, she says that “those with the power to make decisions in these things should make them instead of constantly fobbing us off with these different bodies”. In essence McKay believes that such a body is a way of the powers that be pushing an issue aside. It is “playing for time because it was felt they wanted the new institutions to bed down and they felt that the issue of the past was potentially disruptive of that”. Reflecting on the composition of the Eames-Bradley body she has a sobering view of the Church. “Why should it be churchy people who decide all these things? “It’s not like the Church provided great leadership throughout the Troubles,” she says. Susan McKay does something very important. She highlights the range of human pain inflicted on those who suffered in the Troubles. “Some people obviously need ongoing medical help. Some people need counselling,” she says. “Some people need to find out the truth about what happened to the person that was killed. “A lot of people don’t know, don’t know who was responsible and don’t know why their loved one was chosen. Some people want to know why it was never investigated.” Highlighting the present need, she says: “The war is over. Now is the time to address the needs of those who have been most hurt by it.” Her challenge about dealing with the past is also for the sake of the future. “Efforts need to be put into trying to inspire some sort of belief in politics in the post-Troubles generation, and some sort of sense of idealism,” she says. “You are not going to inspire idealism by telling people that the truth is too risky.” Perhaps McKay’s most poignant and sharp question comes in her relaying of the suffering of one woman from the Troubles. “Why did our lives have to be ruined for 30 years? Why couldn’t they have done this long ago? Why are they able to sit down together now? What’s different? Why couldn’t this have been possible 20 years ago before my brother was killed?” The question simply does not go away. ■ Susan McKay is author of Bear in Mind These Dead, which explores the legacy of the Troubles. The Rev Earl Storey is director of the Church of Ireland’s Hard Gospel Project.


■ A VOICE FOR THE SUFFERING: Journalist and author Susan McKay with her book Bear in Mind These Dead

PICTURE: Seamus Loughran

She talks of disturbing facets of collusion in relation to loyalist paramilitaries. She also talks of how extraordinary it is to think of people in the republican movement who allegedly may have been “responsible for deciding

“The sheer brutality of what went on in all those years – it needs to be not forgotten. We need to try and learn something from it and not let it pass”
Susan McKay

which informers lived or died then turn out to have been working for the British – the implications are enormous”. For relatives of those who died there is often great anger. There are also questions. How come some people were saved and some were let go? Who was re-

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