Dealing with the past and the issue of truth recovery arising from the conflict has become increasingly fraught. This is largely down to the failure of the British government to face up to this issue in a way that provides victims with the best opportunity to achieve truth.
Regular readers will know this blog facilitated a meeting between the Ballymurphy Massacre families and the British Secretary of State Owen Paterson at the beginning of October. The families want truth and an international independent investigation.
And like the Omagh families who met Paterson two weeks earlier, they left dissatisfied with the British government response.
A Sinn Féin delegation also did a meeting with Paterson to discuss how the issue of the past and of truth recovery can best be dealt with.
Our meeting was one of a series Paterson was doing with all of the parties as the British government prepares to set out its position on the Eames Bradley report sometime in the new year.
Regrettably the forty year record of the British government’s approach to dealing with the past and truth recovery does not bode well for a positive outcome.
For example, in May 2006 the then British Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, visited South Africa to examine how they tackled this matter after apartheid.
The Historic Enquiries Team of the PSNI was set up. Murphy’s successor Peter Hain established the Eames/Bradley process. Then the Victims’ Commissioners published a report. This recommends that a consensus is needed to deal with the issues involved.
Spokespersons for the British Government have supported this position. They point to the wide spectrum of responses to the Eames/Bradley propositions as the rationale for that.
But what sort of consensus? Is it possible to have a consensus between Colonel J, who ran the Force Reconnaissance Unit for the British state and which counts among its victims Pat Finucane, and the victims and families of collusion?
Is it possible to have a consensus between British Army, British intelligence, their allies in the unionist deaths squads and the victims and families of these groups?
Is it possible to achieve a consensus between those who blindly supported everything the RUC and UDR did and the nationalist population who suffered gravely from these activities?
Is it possible to have a consensus between the British Government and former IRA combatants or those who were victim of IRA actions?
The reality is that there was and is no prospect of achieving a consensus between all of these. This much was evident in the spectrum of responses to the Eames/Bradley propositions which came from a body set up exclusively by the major protagonist in the conflict, the British Government.
This blog is for a consensus. But no truth recovery process whose remit is set by any of the protagonists will secure the necessary consensus. So how do we move this very important and difficult issue forward.
I believe the consensus we must first achieve is one which accepts the centrality of independence.
That is, independence both in the design of a future truth recovery process and in the implementation of the detail of such a process.
Moreover the reality is that participation in such a process will only work on the basis of voluntary participation. This will be regardless of any powers conferred on a body to compel persons to give evidence or produce papers; and regardless of powers of sanction in the event of failure to comply with such a demand.
Victims, their families and the wider public will make their own judgements on responses to the issue of cooperation with a fair and inclusive truth recovery process independently designed and implemented.
In keeping with all of this it is clear that an Independent International Truth Commission is required. Independence is key because truth recovery cannot be dealt with through a British or Unionist prism or, for that matter, through an Irish republican prism.
Clearly an effective truth recovery process is dependent on full and voluntary cooperation by all relevant parties. Any body charged with this onerous task:
- should have a remit to inquire into the extent and patterns of past violations as well as their causes and consequences;
- should examine and report on institutional and collective responsibility, and
- must be independent of the state, combatant groups, political parties, and economic interests.
The Irish and British Governments should authorise a reputable body, such as the United Nations, to devise and implement all measures and processes necessary to achieve:
- the independence of the Commission;
- effective independent truth recovery methods, and
- the public reporting of its findings, conclusions and recommendations.
This should be underpinned by the two Governments in legislation.
There should be no hierarchy of victims. All processes should be victim centred and should deal with all victims of the conflict on the basis of equality and fairness.
There are vested interests who do not want truth and who will be opposed to the creation of a meaningful truth recovery process. The disgraceful wrangling over the Eames/Bradley proposals for a recognition payment and the definition of a victim are examples of this.