Published in Issue 4 (July/August 2022), Letters, Volume 30

Sir,—I wish to respond to Margaret Urwin’s letter in the last issue (HI 30.3, May/June 2022) on behalf of the Justice for the Forgotten/Pat Finucane Centre organisations. Now that the Legacy and Reconciliation Bill has been published, we believe it is all the more important that people understand what we are advocating in the Truth Recovery Process (TRP), how it differs from the new British proposals and why it is necessary.

First of all, we agree that any approach to dealing with the Legacy of the Troubles must be victim-centred. It is precisely because existing strategies have failed to be so for 24 years that we are advocating the TRP approach.

If further proof is needed that time is running out for victims, it is provided in the series of opinion polls conducted by the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool earlier this year, the most recent of which found that only 0.3% of unionists and 0.4% of nationalists cite Legacy issues as their first political priority. This is far behind health, the economy or the Protocol.

On the other hand, the proposition that ‘we can only get truth for victims and survivors if we offer conditional amnesties to those who offer up the truth’ elicited a positive response from 48.6% of unionist respondents, 53.5% of nationalist respondents and 40.8% of those who identified as neither. The figures for those opposed to conditional amnesties were respectively 29.1%, 12.6% and 22.8%.

Some families have been waiting half a century for Truth and Justice through the courts. Some of them will never get it because those responsible are dead. In other cases prosecutions have failed for a wide variety of reasons, and in some cases the person convicted was innocent of the offence but had no way of proving it except by turning informer and becoming an outcast in their own community.

Many victims are already accepting that they will never receive justice through criminal prosecutions by initiating nearly 1,000 civil actions against suspected perpetrators ranging from Sinn Féin to the British government and named individuals they believe responsible.

The Truth Recovery Process, based on conditional amnesties in return for full disclosure and engagement with victims and their families by those responsible, is proposed as an alternative to the courts if people wish to opt for it. We are not proposing that anyone’s right to instead have their cases heard in the courts, be they criminal or civil, be removed. Although our process would have judicial oversight, it would be based on a mediation model and provide for compensation funded by the British and Irish governments. Proceedings would be conducted in private and outcomes would only be made public with the consent of all the parties. It would be more expeditious than the courts, less confrontational and would remove the uncertainties and costs of litigation.

Some readers may be perplexed by our reluctance to have police officers or former police officers involved in the mediation process as investigators. The primary reason is that these are not criminal investigations but are based on a mediation and reconciliation model. The second is that there is a shortage of trained criminal investigators throughout the developed world. Thirdly, police officers are trained to assemble information for a prosecution. The primary requirement of our process is to secure the services of people whose focus is on research and approaching evidence holistically.

Already during the Troubles some of the best investigations have been initiated, advanced and even led by such people. Figures such as Chris Mullin and Margaret Urwin herself are examples. The Saville Inquiry is cited by Margaret as an example of where immunity from prosecution has failed to elicit truthful evidence from British soldiers, but we are not proposing immunity; we are proposing an amnesty conditional on full and honest disclosure. People giving evidence before Saville would also have been mindful that, while the evidence could not be used against them in the courts, it could help create new lines of inquiry for investigation and potential prosecutions down the road. Nor would our proposal take 40 years or cost £140 million.

Ireland and Britain are almost unique in Europe in not having a statute of limitation on murder or grievous bodily harm. In some states the statute is as short as twenty years. The present reliance on the courts to deal with cases is a major obstacle to Irish society—and, indeed, victims and survivors in Britain and the Republic—finding out what happened and coming to terms with it.

As your own editorial response to Margaret Urwin’s letter points out, even she accepts that ‘prosecutions in most cases are highly unlikely’ and ‘the demographic clock is ticking’.—Yours etc.,

Truth Recovery Process


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