Time for a truth recovery process
Sir, – We very much welcome Fintan O’Toole’s column “Troubles victims deserve the truth – there will be no more prosecutions” (Opinion & Analysis, May 15th) and that of Denis Bradley, “Statute of limitations is not a silver bullet for dealing with Troubles legacy” (Opinion & Analysis, May 15th). Both, characteristically, tell uncomfortable but necessary truths about the poisonous legacy of the Troubles that has grown out of the shortcomings in the 1998 Belfast Agreement.
We also wish to commend The Irish Times for publishing the first article advocating the truth recovery process, as mentioned by O’Toole, as far back as September 10th, 2018.
The articles by Fintan O’Toole and Denis Bradley appear to have prompted a response from Desmond Rea in Monday’s paper that “Northern Ireland should draw a line in a national act of contrition” (Opinion & Analysis, May 17th). While Mr Rea’s article is well argued it omits to address the legacy issues that confront thousands of victims and survivors, who have needs that “a national act of contrition” will not address. Indeed we have had several such symbolic acts in the past.
Our process, which was generated by discussions between victims and survivors, former combatants and academics at least attempts to do so. We believe, more than ever, that there is an urgent need for a new approach to retrieving as much of the truth as possible from the Troubles, not alone for the victims and survivors (and their families) in Northern Ireland, the Republic and Britain, but in the interests of wider reconciliation on these islands. The findings of the Ballymurphy Inquest and collapse of the trial of soldiers A and C for the death of Joe McCann are the latest cruel demonstrations of the total inadequacy of existing routes to truth and justice through the courts.
One of the principal objections voiced to our proposal is that it is not compliant with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and therefore ineligible for consideration under the terms of the Stormont House Agreement (SHA). Article 2 obligates signatory states to protect the right to life of citizens. Earlier this month we received a legal opinion from Michael Lynn SC and Ceile Varley BL stating that our process is indeed Article 2 compliant and therefore eligible for consideration under the SHA.
It is, we believe, far more compliant with the text and the spirit of the ECHR than some of the proposals being considered by both governments, including some drafted by lawyers that are likely to bring the justice system in Northern Ireland into even more disrepute than the existing law that imposes a maximum sentence of two years on any former combatant who committed murders from 1973 onwards.
While no prison sentence is proposed in the Truth Recovery Process, it does obligate former combatants to engage honestly and fully with victims and survivors through a highly structured and sensitive mediation process where the privacy of all concerned is protected unless both parties agree to publicise it subsequently. This may allow for some degree of reconciliation outside the toxic arena of the courts by helping the victims and survivors to find out what happened to their loved ones directly from those who perpetrated the killings. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Fintan O’Toole correctly observes that only a minuscule proportion of the perpetrators of the 50,000 crimes of extreme violence during the Troubles have been punished.
But the resolution of political conflict is usually a choice: peace or justice. Ireland made a choice: peace. – Yours, etc,
Dr JOHN DOHERTY,
Co Dhún na nGall.