How best to address the legacy of Northern Ireland’s troubled past?

A majority of those who responded to a Government consultation have rejected the proposals of the Consultative Group on the Past, established to address how Northern Ireland addresses the legacy of its troubled past.

A majority of those who responded to a Government consultation have rejected the proposals of the Consultative Group on the Past, established to address how Northern Ireland addresses the legacy of its troubled past.

In January last year, the group, chaired by former Church of Ireland primate Lord Eames and Denis Bradley, a former vice chair of the Police Service of Northern Ireland policing board published its proposals on how to move forward, which included:

Paying a lump sum of £12,000 to the families of those who lost loved ones during the troubles;

• Establishing a new independent legacy commission to address the issues of securing reconciliation, justice and information recovery;

• Setting up a reconciliation forum to help the legacy commission and the existing Commission for Victims and Survivors for Northern Ireland;

• A new Review and Investigation Unit, replacing the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team and the Police Ombudsman’s unit dealing with historical cases;

• No new public inquiries; and

• An annual Day of Reflection and Reconciliation and a shared memorial to the troubles.

At the time, much of the press and political attention was focused on the anger over the suggestion that victims’ families should be paid, given that it would mean payments to those who died at the hands of terrorism as well as those, such as the Shankill Road bomber, Thomas Begley, who died after the bomb he was carrying exploded prematurely in 1993.

The Northern Ireland Office’s consultation on the proposals has seen both individuals and organisations reject the proposals. In particular, the document found that on the issues of paying the families of those victims of the troubles, 20 organisations objected with eight in favour whilst 169 out of 174 individual responses were opposed to such payouts.

The responses did, however, highlight a number of suggestions from Northern Ireland’s political parties on how to move forward, including:

• The Alliance Party expressed their hope that the proposed legacy commission would be at the centre of all future structures for coming to terms with the past;

• Ulster Unionists dubbed such a commission as a “one-sided truth commission”, indicating fears that any body would focus disproportionately on the actions of state security forces;

• The DUP concluded that justice was “integral to our constitution” whilst the TUV raised its fears that the commission would “become a vehicle which will prevent innocent families having their day in court”;

• Sinn Fein called for the establishment of an “independent international Truth Commission”, funded by a body such as the United Nations; and

• A remodelled Community Relations Council taking responsibility for the proposed Victims and Survivors Service.

Responding to the developments, victim’s rights campaign Raymond McCord told UTV:

“A group should be set up made up of victims and ask the victims what is the way forward for us. Until victims are represented on these groups, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a complete waste of time and money.”

And for the Government, Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson pledged:

“I am committed to listening to the views of people from across the community in Northern Ireland on the role I can play on this important issue. I hope that publishing this summary of responses to the consultation demonstrates the transparent and measured approach I intend to take.”

6 Responses to “How best to address the legacy of Northern Ireland’s troubled past?”

  1. Trakgalvis

    How best to address the legacy of Northern Ireland's troubled past? //bit.ly/cPbm8G via @leftfootfwd

  2. Trakgalvis

    How best to address the legacy of Northern Ireland's troubled past? //bit.ly/cPbm8G via @leftfootfwd

  3. noah

    RT @leftfootfwd: How best to address the legacy of Northern Ireland's troubled past? //bit.ly/cPbm8G

  4. Alex Holland

    RT @leftfootfwd: How does Northern Ireland address its troubled past? //bit.ly/cPbm8G

  5. DLyons

    Recent inquiries and reports into the conflict and its legacies all refect one difficulty in dealing with the past – that is the nature of the organisations involved. Paramilitaries of all hues are not known for their meticulous record keeping and while the British Army are rightly hounded for destroying the weapons used on Bloody Sunday most of the weapons used in other atrocities have also been destroyed through the decommissioning process.

    The suffering of those who survived attacks or lost loved ones in the Troubles is of primary importance here (over half of those killed were bystanders, the majority of those injured had nothing to do with the bloody murder match).

    The release of prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement was perhaps one of the most significant and certainly most difficult moments of the peace process. This amnesty was broadened in 2005 with the On The Runs Legislation which absolved PIRA volunteers convicted in their absence to return to NI without fear of prosecution. The OTR legislation also absolved members of the RUC/UDR/B-Specials and so saved them from prosecution for crimes committed while in uniform before that date.

    However even in this the nature of the participating organisations played a crucial part. The judicial system has mechanisms for dropping charges. However when the families of those exiled from Northern Ireland by the Provisionals asked if they could return home the response from McGuinness was that it was up to the individuals to decide if they would be safe in the ‘community’. No doubt the cautionary tale of Frank Hegarty was prominent in the minds of those in question.

    A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (usually the South African model) has been suggested by a number of sources. However such a model relies on free and frank participation from ALL the participants to have any credibility. Considering that you’d be hard pushed to find a single person familiar with NI who believes Gerry Adams when he says that he was never in the PIRA, there is no credibility at all in SF’s calls for a truth an reconciliation process.

    Indeed previous suggestions have often been vetoed by Sinn Fein quoting the need to maintain the PIRA’s “code of honour” and not divulge what really went on. Those who have put pen to paper to tell their story (Brendan Hughes, Eamon Collins, Richard O’Rawe etc) have done so against the wishes of the republican paramilitaries and have been denounced respectively as works of “alcoholics”, “traitors” and the “mentally ill”. Similarly from the Loyalist perspective the accounts of Gusty Spence, David Irvine and Robert Black leave many questions unanswered and present accounts which have proven in many cases to be simply untrue.

    The Historical Enquiries Team, the Police Ombudsman and the Consultative Group on the Past have all been trying to work around this – avoiding attempts at political expediency while sifting through fact and fiction.

    We also have to ask what the effects would be of simply drawing a line under the past. In reality the reports and findings to date (focusing as they do on the more individually visible events of the troubles) are reiterating and codifying what is common knowledge. The reception they have been met with show that they’re not likely to cause any serious political change (unless Martin Ingrams claims are true) and forgetting the past isn’t really an option as much of the legacy is still with us in the form of a highly segregated society and of course for those individuals most affected by it. Ultimately is up to the victims and survivors to decide how best they wish to deal with it. The best we can do is offer our unconditional support.

  6. Simon Lewis

    .@AndrewGeorgeLD re left foot forward post (//bit.ly/lIgwYY ). How do the changes weaken ability to pick “preferred providers”?

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