One of the most cynical debates around the legacy of the Troubles lies in how we investigate the past. Although the details of the negotiations between Sinn Féin and Tony Blair are shady, it’s clear Adams successfully lodged a public interest defence.
The letters of comfort story broke after an IRA volunteer who had had one assuring him that the PSNI were not looking for him found himself arrested when he touched down in London (because the Met still were). The judge decided against prosecution.
Investigations have proceeded largely as a fact finding process under the now defunct Historical Enquiries Team. It was wound up in September 2014 after the PSNI was restructured. Former chief constable Hugh Orde called it “a massive mistake”.
The only GFA commission empowered to properly investigate Troubles’ past was the Police Ombudsman. The Human Rights commission as it then was not given similar powers presumably because of the potential for political destabilisation.
The Irish News reports that…
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act passed into law in September and provides immunity in some circumstances along with ending civil cases and inquests that have not reached their findings stage by next May.
The new law, opposed by victims’ groups, will also bring an end to all investigations undertaken by the Police Ombudsman’s Historical Investigations Directorate.
That means the end of some 400 investigations into deaths in the RUC/Troubles era, leaving about 50 still on the Police Ombudsman’s books. The Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) will take over.
Nothing about the way we have handled thousands of injustices feels right. That’s mostly because it’s been a playground for battles over narrative, rather than seeking the sort of healing that victims are constantly being promised and then denied.
If the ICRIR goes the same way of previous initiatives many victims families who are constantly encouraged to believe they will find justice, will likely not. It doesn’t lie in the interests of those with gross liabilities of own to hide to see the state come clean.
What most of it has NOT been about has been reconciliation. As Fintan O’Toole remarked back in January 2005, it’s mostly been a struggle for the control of the memory of the Northern Ireland conflict’. But as Paul Arthur has noted:
An adversarial approach is not appropriate. Instead we should be prepared to recognise past failings.
Surveys, polls, economic data and the census all show a relatively prosperous stalemate. Yet through a partial approach to looking at our past, we’re failing to see these current positives or the lives saved by the decisive ending of the conflict in 1998.
That’s not to argue that the victims can or should be ignored. I’ve always favoured the right to justice for all of those affected by the Troubles. They should not be forgotten, if only to remind ourselves of the vast folly the Troubles represented.
As John Kellden says, “in our naming others, we rekindle their essential character”. The tragedy is that so many of the non protagonists who died (innocents, if you like) have been so forgotten that the burden falls only upon their grieving families.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty