Churches could develop truth recovery process, Archbishop says

Eamon Martin says reconciliation can only be achieved by facing the past in apparent criticism of UK government’s planned Troubles amnesty

The head of the Catholic church in Ireland has suggested religious denominations could help develop a truth recovery process to address the legacy of the Troubles.

“It may seem ambitious,” Archbishop Eamon Martin said, “but might we in the Churches offer to help an agreed truth recovery progress to address the legacy of pain and mistrust that continues to hang over us?”

Archbishop Martin, in an apparent criticism of the UK government’s proposed legislation to deal with the legacy of the Troubles, also said “peace, reconciliation and forgiveness on this island can only be progressed if we bring to light the truths about our troubled past that remain hidden and festering.”

He also called for engagement in “respectful conversations across our communities about what we mean by a shared future”.


“And might our Churches also work together to create spaces for dialogue at parish, congregation and community level so that all voices can be fully heard about the kind of society and values we want for our children and grandchildren,” he said.

The archbishop, who is the Catholic Primate of All Ireland, was speaking at a service in St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast on Sunday afternoon to mark the centenary of the Irish Council of Churches (ICC).

Archbishop Martin has been a long-standing critic of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, as have other church leaders in Ireland.

The Bill, which is due to return to the House of Lords this week, will end criminal and civil cases and inquests and offer a conditional amnesty to perpetrators, and is widely opposed, including by victims groups, the Irish government and the United Nations.

Writing in the Financial Times in November, he and Archbishop John McDowell, the head of the Church of Ireland, strongly condemned the UK government’s proposals as “heavily weighted in favour of the perpetrators of violence” and suggested its consequences would be to “deepen division and further demoralise all but a tiny minority of those it purports to help”.

Introducing minor amendments to the Bill last week, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said the legislation “aims to deliver better outcomes for those most impacted by the Troubles, including victims, survivors and veterans, while helping society to look forward” and the changes demonstrated the UK government was listening and seeking to address concerns raised.

The service on Sunday also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Ballymascanlon talks between the ICC and senior members of the Catholic church in 1973 which was the first official meeting between the Catholic and Protestant churches.

It was led by the Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde, and attended by representatives from 16 all-Ireland member denominations, with addresses by Archbishop Martin and the Rev Dr Harold Good, the former president of the Methodist Church.

In his address Dr Good referred to the speech by Queen Elizabeth at Dublin Castle during her visit to Ireland in 2011, saying “let us not underestimate the impact ... when in humility she spoke of things which could have been done differently, or not at all.

“Just imagine if, following this service, each of us was resolved to acknowledge the hurt which collectively – if not individually – we have inflicted upon each other and for which we now seek to be reconciled.”

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times