Monday, 14 September 2009
The journey on the A4212 from Bala to Trawsfynydd is a particularly pretty one, climbing the broad pass up the Tryweryn Valley and through the Arenig mountains until it drops down into an even larger basin framed by the remote and brooding Rhinogs. It is eerily beautiful.
Not far out of Bala the road skirts a large lake by the name of Llyn Celyn. Its serene waters lap gently at the shore, seemingly part of this haunting landscape for aeons like the immovable mountains that dominate this part of Wales.
And yet this timeless scene was not always so. Llyn Celyn is an artificial reservoir, built in the mid 1960s to provide water for the city of Liverpool across the border in England. The lake has since become a literal rallying cry - "Remember Tryweryn" - and focal point for the Welsh nationalist movement.
In order to facilitate the flooding of the valley and the construction of the lake - and the submerging of the Welsh-speaking village of Capel Celyn that it would entail - Liverpool City Council had applied for an act of parliament so that planning permission would not have to be sought from the local Welsh authorities. Local opposition was fierce; thirty five out of the thirty six Welsh MPs opposed the bill, and cases of direct action hampered both the demolition of the village and the construction of the new dam.
The saga of Llyn Celyn appeared to vindicate nationalist party Plaid Cymru's contention that the Welsh community was effectively powerless, a viewpoint bolstered by the election of Plaid's first parliamentarian the year after the reservoir opened. The affair also galvanised the creation of a Welsh Office and Secretary of State for Wales and ultimately for devolution.
The memory of Capel Celyn has been recently invoked by Plaid MP Adam Price, who has demanded that the Conservatives apologise for the role they played in the construction of Llyn Celyn at the party's conference in Llandudno; it was Macmillan's government which passed the original Tryweryn Bill in 1957. Liverpool City Council apologised in 2005, forty years after the lake's creation.
The custom of demanding apologies for past historical actions is nothing new; famous recent examples include Australia's treatment of its aboriginal population and the Christian Crusades in the medieval Near East. Reactions to Price's demands have been mixed.
Yet all of these apologies tend to have one theme in common; the apology is not being asked from the people that committed the deed for which the apology is being demanded for.
Take this most recent example. Virtually all of the people involved in the decision-making process behind Tryweryn are now dead, or certainly no longer active in party politics. Llyn Celyn opened a year before Conservative leader David Cameron was born. So is it fair and reasonable - not to mention meaningful - to expect an apology from those not actually responsible?
An expression of regret, on the other hand, is more than reasonable; it is an acknowledgement that an historical wrong has been committed. But it also accounts for - and amends - the fact that those forced to make an apology are in effect just as responsible for the wrong in question as those wronged by it - which is, in other words, not at all. A subtle turn of phrase, perhaps, but one with potentially profound consequences.
An apology is, after all, an admission of guilt, which is something which those with no direct connection to a particular event cannot ever possibly have. It is meaningless to force people to say sorry for the actions of others. And it would seem the people of Snowdonia agree; Adam Price and his Plaid colleagues should take note.