Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Unshackling the Past

US diplomats Richard Haass and Meghan O Sullivan are currently conducting intensive and inclusive negotiations to deal with outstanding aspects of the Good Friday and other Agreements. These include the legacy issues arising from the conflict.

Everyone who has an interest in building the peace knows that the past cannot be allowed to be an obstacle to building the future. So, there needs to be a measured and inclusive debate on all of the issues involved.
Today the north’s Attorney General John Larkin has put forward his ideas on dealing with one aspect the legacy of the past - the issue of prosecutions. He has expressed a view that there should be no prosecutions, inquests or inquiries for incidents before the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr. Larkin has also said that the current position favours non-state forces. That is not the case. The British government is in breach of international agreements and commitments in respect of the Pat Finucane Inquiry and the Dublin and Monaghan bombs. And to all intents and purposes there is an amnesty for the British state forces and their allies. While over the years thousands of republicans and innocent nationalists have served very lengthy prison sentences.
I have not had the chance to read the Attorney General’s full remarks on this issue. But I think it is a good thing that the Haass talks have encouraged people - he has had several hundred submissions – to express their opinions, including victims.

Our wider society needs to have this debate. We need a sensitive, measured, reasoned and intelligent debate on these issues which recognises that any mechanism put in place must be victim centred and that it has to be done on the basis of equality.
The conflict is over but the legacy of conflict remains with us. The pain, suffering and the tragedies from decades of conflict are, for many, as real today as they were when they first occurred.

Sinn Féin believes that if legacy issues are located in the framework of conflict resolution and of the broader peace process then these matters will be addressed in way which will heal divisions, consolidate the peace and become guarantors for the future. Truth recovery and acknowledgement are critical to dealing with the past and can become a powerful dynamic in the quest for reconciliation.

Sinn Féin has proposed that an international, independent truth recovery process underpinned in legislation should be established. Others have different ideas of how this issue should be dealt with and that is fair enough, but we need to take this opportunity to move the process forward in a way that looks after the victims but also builds the future for the survivors.

It is necessary that in coming to the issue of truth and reconciliation that we all recognise that there are many different narratives to this story. All of these narratives have their own truth. There is no single voice for victims. Some want truth. Some want judicial processes.
There are also different perspectives on the causes of the conflict, what happened and who was responsible.

I am an Irish republican. British government involvement in Irish affairs and the partition of this country are in my view at the core of the problem but I recognise that others, for example, the unionists have a different view and their own sense of truth, Fine Gael may have its own analysis. Or Fianna Fáil and others including the British government. We need to set all of these narratives side by side and respect them all.

How do we encourage such a debate? The starting point must be a recognition by the Irish government that this is a crucial matter and that as a co-equal partner with the British government it has a responsibility to look after everyone on this island including our unionist neighbours.

In this context I am looking to the government to encourage a joined-up inclusive, thoughtful discussion aimed at unshackling us from the past. We need a process that can ensure that the past is never repeated and which is aimed at forging a more hopeful future for the people who have survived the conflict and for our children and grandchildren.

In this respect I am very conscious of the upcoming state visit by the President to Britain. It is important that these seismic changes can be measured by people not just in the palaces but also in the laneways and hillsides across this island.

Finally in our submission to the Haass talks Sinn Féin submitted a paper ‘Addressing Legacy Issues – Building a Common Future’. We have also made submissions on Flags and emblems and on parades. All of these are available at

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