Always an interesting question this.  Should one apologise for …. slavery .. the Irish Famine … terrorism.  I don’t think it is quite as simple as some would like to think.  Just to say, ‘It was five generations ago so it is nothing to do with me’ ignores the extent to which we are all the inheritors of our history and the way in which we still respond to one another in ways which are conditioned by that history.  On the other hand, our ancestry is so intermingled that it is hard to see how any of us is the direct inheritor of anything in that sense.  Maybe ‘apologise’ is not quite right – but I have no doubt that a carefully-timed and authoritative recognition of past hurts and indifference to hurts can have a significant influence on laying the past to rest.  And it needs to be received and responded to …


  1. Well – yes I agree with that in part. The ‘ruling elite’ aspect of it does add even more distance to the five or 50 generations … But I think one also needs to consider two other things. One is that, if one is on the ‘victim’ side rather than ‘perpetrator’, it may look a little different. I also suspect that the ‘ruling elite’ idea may absolve too many people of responsibility. One of the darker truths, I believe, of [Northern] Ireland was the understanding that the hard thoughts, hard words and hard votes of people who would never be perpetrators of violence had the effect of legitimising the violence of others.

  2. The business of ‘apologies’ worries me. On whose behalf is the apology being made? The overwhelming majority of British people had no part or hand in the Famine, or the Slave Trade, or the various other dark episodes in history. If politicians wish to apologise on behalf of the ruling elite who held power at the time, then let them say so. Otherwise history becomes simplified into a “them” and “us” story where one side is “bad” and the other is “good” and politics declines to a blame game.

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