Commission for victims seeks to deal with NI past

 

THE COMMISSION for Victims and Survivors is urgently pressing the British and Irish governments to work with the Stormont parties to agree structures to deal with the legacy of conflict.

Commissioners Brendan McAllister, Bertha McDougall and Patricia MacBride yesterday published proposals they are submitting to the two governments.

They want the British government, with Irish support, to convene talks in the autumn involving the main Stormont parties designed to find an agreed way forward on dealing with the past.

The commissioners argue there is a pressing case to address the legacy of conflict and to build on initiatives already taken.

These include the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Pastreport, and the work done by the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and the Police Ombudsman’s office.

“Many victims and survivors have waited for many years for answers and assistance, many have died without having their needs met and for many more, their needs have been exacerbated as they age,” they wrote.

“We believe the government and society has a duty of care to these individuals, families and communities.

“It is important to find ways of dealing with the past. Otherwise, it will seep out like poison.”

The commissioners, in a lengthy submission to the British government, have outlined a series of proposals. A primary suggestion is the establishment of what they call a “design process”.

This would work for six months from next November with the aim of securing cross-party support for an agreed approach on the past and to involve civic society and victims. The commissioners propose to advise on what they believe to be appropriate methods of addressing legacy issues. They place significant emphasis on time and are pressing all involved to draw up new arrangements for dealing with victims and survivors by November 2011.

They further propose to establish a working group to produce proposals to address the financial concerns of the seriously injured and the bereaved.

“Truth examination should be at the core of the new arrangements,” they write, “whereby events and issues of critical societal significance from the past can be carefully examined”.

The commissioners also propose to involve other bodies, including the children’s commissioner, the new justice minister’s department, the Community Relations Council and the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Their policy document is based on a belief that while the Troubles are over, Northern Ireland remains a society whose conflict “is not yet resolved”.

“Addressing the past will strengthen peace and stability by ensuring that the future is built upon a foundation of collective awareness, inspired by truth and renewed by justice,” they write.

Referring to a proposed £12,000 (€15,000) “recognition payment” to be offered to all victims and survivors as contained in the Eames-Bradley report, the commissioners say they recognise the value of such a one-off payment.

However, they add: “The controversy which erupted around the proposal for a recognition payment divided the community and became a scandal which inhibited the development of a fuller debate of the group’s report.”

They conclude: “It is not appropriate to introduce a recognition payment at this time” and they also warn against the granting of “any general amnesty”.

PROPOSALS ON VICTIMS AND SURVIVORS OF TROUBLES MAIN POINTS

- Stormont parties must address the legacy of the Troubles and avoid a temptation to ignore it by “drawing a line under the past”.

- British and Irish governments should “press political and civic leaders to agree structures to deal with the past”.

- Parties should work on a design process, to draw up an agreed policy between November and April for implementation in November 2011.

- Work should include inputs from the children’s commissioner, the PSNI, justice department, the Community Relations Council and the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

- No general amnesty as this “would be repugnant to the vast majority of victims”.

- No £12,000 “Recognition Payment”, as recommended by Eames-Bradley, for the time being.