The Civil War and amnesty

Published in Editorial, Issue 4 (July/August 2021), Volume 29

editorAs we move into the ‘difficult’ bit of the ongoing ‘decade of centenaries’—the Treaty split and the Civil War—Joe Coy (Letters, p. 14) reminds us that ‘the Irish Civil War was a very restrained event by international standards’. There was little retaliation against the losing side, who by late 1924 could avail of an amnesty; the Free State had previously indemnified itself against its own extrajudicial killings.

Is there a lesson here in relation to another set of (50th) anniversaries—for example, the introduction of internment in August 1971 and the consequent Ballymurphy massacre? While the recent coroner’s report, which found that the killings of nine civilians by the 1st Battalion of the British Army’s Parachute Regiment (deployed six months later in Derry on Bloody Sunday) ‘were without justification’, is to be welcomed, the sad fact is that this is an outlier; the vast majority of the victims of the conflict and their families will get no such satisfaction.

Surely it is time, therefore, to give serious consideration to a ‘truth for amnesty’ scheme, as advocated in these pages by Padraig Yeates (HI 28.6, Nov./Dec. 2020, Platform, Its terms of reference would need close scrutiny, however, to avoid the legal pitfalls of similar previous projects like the Boston College tapes or the recent Mother and Baby Home report débâcle. Where would the British State and its actors feature in this process? Its record on ‘transparency’ is hardly exemplary. Even in relation to the events of a century ago, the British State has not yet put all its archival cards on the table.

And finally, in relation to Joe’s challenge to historians in respect of the Civil War, he should keep an eye out from October for History Ireland’s stand-alone special supplement, The Split—from Truce to Treaty to Civil War 1921–23, our fourth tracking the ‘decade of centenaries’.

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