‘Disappeared’ is a euphemism applied to people who are kidnapped, and usually murdered, but whose bodies are never recovered and whose fate is never definitively known. It crops up in all sorts of nasty places. A lot of people ‘disappeared’, for example, in South America during the decades when most of that continent’s security forces were vigorously engaged in competition to see who could vanish the most communists.
There is a particular horror to disappearances: a murder, whilst horrific, at least allows for a funeral and proper closure for the victim’s friends and family. When someone is disappeared, those people are stripped of the rituals that we use to ease the pain of someone moving on, whether it is a wake, a funeral, or just a simple headstone or a pot of ashes. The not knowing keeps the wound fresh – which, of course, is precisely why it happens.
Since 2002, the sustained use of disappearances in a campaign against a civilian population is classified a crime against humanity. This is perhaps some measure of comfort for the families of those who, some decades prior, disappeared from British streets, victims the Provisional Irish Republican Army.
A new BBC/RTE documentary into these people, seven of whose bodies are still unrecovered, has brought the issue sharply back into focus in Northern Ireland – which has proved rather uncomfortable for some people, who are certainly not ex-IRA but nonetheless sit at the top of the old IRA’s political party, Sinn Fein.
In particular Gerry Adams, a TD in the parliament of the Republic of Ireland and President of the party (who denies ever having been involved in the IRA) has faced a furious backlash from victims’ families after claiming not to know anything about where the remaining disappeared might lie or what happened to them.
Both he and Martin McGuinness, the SF Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland – who has condemned the disappearances in very strong terms – have pledged their efforts to bring the final resting places of the remaining victims to light, which is commendable. Yet for the many who believe that both men held senior positions in the PIRA and may even have directly ordered some of the attacks, such promises will seem hollow at best, and insultingly cynical at worst.
Following on from the row over appointing convicted terrorists to special advisor positions, the awkward position of Adams et al is the latest challenge thrown up by Northern Ireland’s attempt to integrate former terrorists – or fellow travellers who claim they definitely weren’t terrorists, as the case may be – into civilian politics.
Carwyn Jones ‘scared’ of tax powers, claim Lib Dems
Kirsty Williams, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Wales, has accused Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones of being ‘scared’ of taking responsibility for raising public money in Wales after he said he would not pursue those powers until Treasury funding for Wales is reformed. According to Williams the First Minister is comfortable being doled out money from the Union treasury in London, and doesn’t want to face the challenges involved in taking money from the Welsh people as well as spending it on them.
A spokesman for the devo-philiac Jones has described the charge as ‘preposterous’, and while getting to spend money you’ve not had to raise does sound like a Labour administration’s idea of nirvana it does stretch credulity to believe the First Minister would leave a domestic power in London if there was the faintest chance he might lay his hands upon it.
Independent Nationalist MSP aims to remove religious groups from education committees
Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie, who was elected for the SNP before defecting over their u-turn on NATO membership, has submitted a private members motion which would remove religious representatives from Scottish local authority education committees.
Scottish boards are required to appoint three religious members in a tradition dating back to the original transfer of the Scottish education system from the church to the state in the 1870s. Secularist campaigners estimate that these religious members hold the balance of power on nearly two thirds of these finely-balanced committees.
Finnie maintains that in 21st Century Scotland, where the largest single confessional group in the census is ‘no religion’, the mandatory inclusion of religious representatives in this fashion is archaic and at odds with properly representative government. His bill needs 18 signatures to proceed to the floor and it is believed that there are enough backers in each of the Scottish parliamentary parties to advance it, apart from the Conservatives, and that the SNP would grant their MSPs a free vote if it reached the floor.
The various churches, predictably enough, think this is a bad idea, and that their representatives enter the arrangement in the spirit of public service, in the best traditions of a participatory civil society.
Meanwhile, in England…
…plenty of things happened, the interesting of which are covered fairly extensively on the rest of the site and not in its ‘Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’ column. I hope this saves at least one angry commentator a few seconds this week.