Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2022), Letters, Volume 30

Sir,—It is with some concern that we note your continuing enthusiasm for the Truth Recovery Process (HI 30.2, March/April 2022, editorial). While accepting the bona fides of the individuals involved in this enterprise, it is clear that they have minimal experience of advocating for those most affected by the Northern conflict, namely family members who lost loved ones and those who sustained injuries.

While it is important for academics, lawyers, trade unionists, journalists and civic society generally to be involved in discussions around legacy issues, the proponents of the Truth Recovery Process see victims as just another ‘interest group’. We, on the other hand, who have more than two decades’ experience of advocating for victims, understand that they have to be front and centre in any truth process. As the previous Northern Ireland Victims’ Commissioner, Judith Thompson, noted in an advice paper submitted to the British government:

‘Any approach [to dealing with the past] must be balanced, transparent, must operate within the rule of law and above all be victim centred.’

In Truth Recovery Process’s own magazine, published recently, Alan McBride, who lost his wife and father-in-law in the Shankill Road bombing in 1993, wrote:

‘Victims should be at the heart of these proposals [NIO proposals] … but those who believe that taking the threat of jail-time off the table unconditionally will result in a mass outpouring of the truth are living in a “fool’s paradise”. Victims need to be up front and centre of all these discussions.’

Moreover, the Truth Recovery Process is opposed to former police officers (with no connection to the former RUC or current PSNI) undertaking the work of investigating legacy cases but rather recommends the appointment of ‘independent civilian investigators’. Where are they to be found? Even if they were to be had, are the British authorities going to make sensitive information available to such people? Civilian investigators would not have the security clearance that is vital if they are to access intelligence and investigation files. How would they be in a position to ‘verify information from all available sources’?

Many of the families we support have lost their loved ones either through direct killings by the security forces or through collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries. As the journalist Mike Milotte wrote in May 2021: ‘Does anyone believe that Britain will admit to a policy of extrajudicial killings or to collusion with loyalist paramilitaries?’

It is envisaged by the Truth Recovery Process team that paramilitaries (both Republican and Loyalist) will come forward voluntarily and provide information to families in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Even if that were to happen, and we are sceptical about that, do the proponents honestly believe that British Army veterans and those who worked covertly behind the scenes, directly and indirectly, with both Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries to influence events are likely to come forward and spill the beans?

It has to be remembered that, at the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, soldiers were granted immunity from prosecution for any admissions they made within the Inquiry hearings but, despite this immunity, not a single one of them told the truth about their involvement on that day. Moreover, recent reports published by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) are simply brimming with comments that former police officers refused to co-operate with her investigations, even anonymously.

While the families we support are totally opposed to the British government’s proposals of granting blanket amnesties and closing down all avenues to families who seek the truth about how their loved ones died, they would also not favour the recommendations of the Truth Recovery Process. It is our contention that, while prosecutions in most cases are highly unlikely, that avenue must always remain open and any investigative process must be along the lines of the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), one of the mechanisms of the Stormont House Agreement (SHA), which was agreed by the British and Irish governments and four of the five parties in Northern Ireland in December 2014. On 18 March 2020, the SHA was binned unilaterally by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis.

In their document ‘Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past: the Model Bill Team’s Response to the NIO proposals’ in September 2021, the authors (QUB academics in conjunction with the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), who, like us, work directly with victims) noted that what is necessary for families is a mechanism that would have full police investigative powers, including search, arrest and questioning, as well as disclosure powers and access to intelligence rather than having to rely on information volunteered to them. The primary focus of the HIU was on information recovery rather than prosecutions.

While one can appreciate the efforts of the Truth Recovery Process team, it is clear to us working at the coalface that their proposals are unworkable.—Yours etc.,

Justice for the Forgotten/Pat Finucane Centre

Thank you for the thoughtful contribution to this particular debate. If, as you accept, ‘prosecutions in most cases are highly unlikely’, why pursue that avenue, particularly since the demographic clock is ticking, the main point of my editorial?—Ed.


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