Dealing with the Past: Pro-State Paramilitaries, Truth and Transition in Northern Ireland

One promise of formal truth recovery processes, such as truth commissions, in transitional societies is that they present the possibility of a common narrative emerging about the causes of conflict. At the same time, there is now evidence that such processes also create silences; some narratives are not fully represented. One such silence is in relation to pro-state paramilitaries. Drawing extensively on interviews with a number of loyalist paramilitary activists in Northern Ireland, as well as others attuned to the current state of loyalism, this article explores loyalist paramilitary attitudes to dealing with the past, and in particular, the possibility of a truth commission for Northern Ireland. It considers the reasons for loyalist reticence about supporting such a commission, including their belief that the call for truth serves a republican insurgent agenda, their conviction that they have been abandoned by the state to which they have been loyal, and a general sense of confused political identity within loyalism. Finally, the article considers some ways in which loyalists might be persuaded to engage in a truth recovery process, not least through an attempt to produce a tighter definition of truth. If their narrative succeeds in being properly represented, there may be lessons to be learned for similar transitional societies.