THE BLOG

Dunblane: Dealing With the Past Through Commemoration and Remembrance

11/03/2016 16:31 GMT | Updated 12/03/2017 09:12 GMT

It is a cold Friday in March and as I alight from the airport transfer bus into Connell Street in Ireland's capital city of Dublin. Tourists and locals throng the street, most ignoring the imposing building that houses the Post Office.

And yet in that building, on Easter Monday 1916, 100 years ago, a few hundred men started a rebellion against British rule in Ireland. They seized the General Post Office (GPO) and read out a proclamation inaugurating the Irish Republic. After a week of intense bombardment the rising was crushed, but within three years a rebel Parliament was formed. An act of great violent conflict and immense historical importance, now 100 years on, and yet Ireland today stands divided on how such events should be commemorated and remembered.

It is partly why I am here in Ireland today. To meet with Irish Government officials to discuss the ongoing process of peace and reconciliation on our islands and to offer the views of the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace on what they call in these parts - 'dealing with the past.' The way we remember, commemorate and help those affected by violence to cope and recover will be top of our discussions.

Next week in Warrington we will commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the Warrington bombings that killed Tim and Johnathan, the boys who the Foundation for Peace works in memory of. In a few months we will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Manchester bombing, in April the Prime Minister will lead the nation in a memorial to those affected by the attacks in Tunisia in 2015 and then in July we will again remember the London July 7/7 2005 attacks. And of course this week the people of Dunblane, Scotland will again share in the immense pain caused by the shootings in a school. Many people affected will share their experiences and some will relive that trauma.

So why is it that in terms of these evil and tragic acts of violence cause us to come together to commemorate and open up our thoughts again, for some creating great pain and dividing many people on how we should remember or forget.

The Foundation for Peace was formed following an act of immense violence and was established by 'victims for victims.' It is perhaps in their wishes that we can view why commemoration is so important. In my experience all victims and survivors share one hope - that what happened to them does not happen to anybody else - and then as an addition to this, that above all else, nobody ever forgets what happened and the loss they continue to feel. Some people become campaigners, some want to hide away and forget, some want justice, some will even offer forgiveness to the perpetrator of the violence. It is never the same, but there are common features in that they want to be listened to, heard, acknowledged and above all their ability to cope and recover must never mean we see them as somehow forgetting, moving on and that we never use words like 'closure.'

Terrorism and violent crimes such as that seen in Dunblane are a low frequency high impact event that affects a relatively small number of people. Survivors and those affected by terrorism and such violence, perhaps uniquely amongst victims, have suffered attacks that are intended ultimately to harm society. They largely have the same needs for protection and assistance as victims of any other serious violent criminal acts and, in the early stages after the event, must be supported in similar ways.

However, owing to the nature of the attack, victims can be under public scrutiny and often have a much greater need for social recognition and respectful treatment. They are often at risk of re-victimisation and can develop long-term physical and psychological needs for assistance in their lives.

Our charitable Foundation started its work 21 years ago. We created the Survivors Assistance Network (SAN), a self-help network providing assistance to people who are victims, survivors or affected by terrorism, unique to England & Wales. It is built on a project called "Survivors for Peace" that has developed over the last 12 years and developed to respond to contemporary needs of victims, survivors and those affected by terrorism, political violence and war.

SAN is a social, health and welfare self-help membership network for people affected by terrorism. It brings together those who share the same experience and trauma and provides a self-help forum and way to assist each other. A major part of what SAN does is to support the remembrance and commemoration and the myriad expressions of this and wishes of those involved. This week, again the media is focussing on Dunblane and our thoughts are with those affected. Those thoughts and our attention can be for a small number unwelcome, but for many they will be grateful that we as fellow humans are with them at this time.

Back in Ireland, the past weighs heavy, but there is a majority will to achieve a lasting peace on our islands and the process of dialogue I am engaged in today is not only about dealing with the past but also about dealing with the future. Commemoration is one way we further that understanding and as Easter looms there will be many diverse opinions about the 1916 commemoration, but ultimately understanding our past can help us make the right choices for the future and so at every opportunity, anniversary or commemoration we should reflect and remember and focus firmly on a future were we break the cycle of violence and build peace.

This blog reflects the personal thoughts of Nick Taylor, Chief Executive of the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace. The Surviors Assistance Network is a project of the Foundation and is funded by the Ministry of Justice. Our ongoing British and Irish reconciliation work is made possible by the kind support of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.