The group had been
charged with coming up with ways by which reconciliation could be
effected between the two Northern Ireland Communities and how they
might come to closure from the many years of trauma experienced by
families during the civil conflict.
I have very largely
retained most of my comments as my reading of the report shows that
my perception of the approach they made to the issues are in the main
The two authors who
have themselves played a significant part in efforts to achieve a
cessation of violence and in the Peace Process afterwards, approached
their task on the basis that all those who suffered during the
‘Bloody Period’, including those actually involved from both sides
and those with responsibility for policing as well as the military in
various were, all in all, victims of history.
proposal to award £12,000
to each family who had suffered, irrespective of whether they were
actively involved or not, was bound to be contentious and likely to
generate resurgence of the antagonisms which permeated the violence
and therefore counterproductive in the reconciliation objective. So
it was right that Secretary of State Shaun Woodward should set this
aside, not for ever, but for the immediate future.
From press and other
media reports it seems there are some disputes over other parts of
the document which indicates that the baggage of the past still hangs
like drag chains upon efforts to keep the ship of reconciliation
moving into more tranquil waters.
It, as I have said
before, will not be easy, and those who understand and have knowledge
of history, of the broken promises, the frustrated hopes down the
centuries, the humiliation, arrogance and misguided governance that
swelled the wellsprings of violence, will acknowledge the enormous
effort needed to ensure the success of the structures set out in the
1998 Agreement, as amended at Saint Andrews in October 2006.
I am quite concerned
by the statement which followed the announcement of a reconstituted
Conservative Unionist Alliance, that if returned to government at the
next Westminster election, they are intent on renegotiating the terms
of the above mentioned Agreement. To do so would, in my view,
destabilise the not yet robust Peace Process.
Attendance at the
University Forum in Belfast was not possible for me. There Patrick
Magee, the Brighton bomber released under the terms of the Agreement
after fourteen years imprisonment who almost caught Margaret
Thatcher, then UK Prime Minister, when his bomb exploded in the Grand
Hotel, met Jo Berry, the daughter of the Conservative MP Sir Anthony Berry who was
killed by the explosion.
This event was part of
a group effort to help those who were on opposite sides to come to
terms with the past. Whilst in prison, Magee studied and obtained a
Phd. The daughter of the MP is into meditation. In front of an
audience of some forty people they discussed how they had come to
terms with each other.
There was a subsequent
half hour programme on BBC Radio Four which I listened to when they
exchanged their views again.
It was quite clear
that Magee, although he expressed sorrow for the death of the lady's
father, still set his action in the circumstances of the issues of
discrimination and oppression felt and experienced by the minority
over many many years. He agreed, however, that if another route had
been open the objective would have been better served without
The daughter of the
former MP, who at the time of her father’s death had only begun to
establish an understanding relationship with him, said she was coming
to terms with her loss and she understood how Magee had been shaped
by events. But as she had chosen the path of life in meditation she
could work with Magee who was now engaged with work for peace and
Clausewitz, the 19th
century German strategist, said that "War is simply politics
with weapons and in every peace treaty lie the seeds of another
conflict". That danger is not entirely absent even in the 1998
settlement in Northern Ireland for a lot of baggage, accumumulated in
the recent ‘Troubles’, is just as heavy, indeed more so, than the
hangovers still around from the past centuries of unrest and
Therefore the recent
decision to reconstruct the old Conservative Unionist political
association pledged to contest jointly the next UK general election
could relight the fierce resentments, especially now that they have
stated that if they are returned to power they will seek to negotiate
changes to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement 1998.
And it will be
interesting to see whether they will venture to openly support the
'No' side or even intrude into the the referendum in the Irish
Republic later this year on the Lisbon Treaty which subject is likely
to arise during the June European parliamentary elections.
Turning again to the
Report of the Consultative Group on the Past this contains
suggestions as to how the process can be taken forward.
I have already made
reference to the question of compensation to families, which has not
been universally approved.
However, in their
summary of the main recommendations they suggest setting up an
independent Legacy Commission to combine processes of reconciliation,
justice and information recovery with the objective of promoting
peace and stability.
Also recommeded is a
Reconciliation Forum, through which the Legacy Commission and the
Commission for Victims and Survivors (already existing) would liaise
to tackle certain society issues relating to the conflict.
To carry out
their overarching remit the Legacy Commission should have a bursary
of £100 million.
The Report envisages
the appointment of an International Commissioner to the Chair and two
Assistant Commissioners to deal with the four strands of work: 1)
helping society towards a reconciled future; 2) reviewing and
investigating historical cases; 3) conducting the process of
information recovery and 4) examining linked or thematic cases
emerging from the conflict. They would in particular have to address
the issue of sectarianism.
It is also recommended
that the offices of First Minister and Deputy First Minister should
join with the British and Irish governments in this initiative and
that the Commission should initially have a remit for five years.
Within the Legacy
Commission they would have an independent unit to deal with the
processes of justice and information recovery which would take over
the work of the Enquiries Team and the Police Ombudsman's Unit, and
build on the work already done. Investigating and the recovery of
information important to relatives would be separated processes.
The report did not
propose an amnesty but suggested that at the end of five years the
Commission itself could make recommendations on a line being drawn
from which Northern ireland could best move to a shared future.
The report was wide
ranging and is the result of extensive discussions across the many
sections and groups at work in the society engaged in reconciliation,
and specifically highlights the ways suggested to move the process
I have only touched on
a few aspects they dealt with, and as the issues are complex and
involved, they can best be explored via the expected cross community
discussions on the contents, which the authors suggest, to arrive at
a consensus on the main suggestions they raise.
If I may pick out one,
they support the idea of a shared day of reflection, initiated in
Northern Ireland by an organisation called Healing through Remembering
and suggest it should be held on the 21st June each year.
They also suggest that
this should involve government, the private sector, the voluntary
sector and the churches and that on or around this day, the First
Minister and Deputy First Minister should make keynote addresses to
the Northern Ireland Assembly and invited guests. This, they say,
would provide an opportunity to lead by example and confirm their
commitment to lead towards a shared and reconciled future.
It is not clear why
this date has been chosen, although it may be connected to the fact
that Peter Hain, the then Secretary of State Northern Ireland,
announced on June 22nd 2007 the setting up of this Consultative
Group. Why they didn't choose 10th April, the anniversary of the Good
Friday Agreement, or to fix the date on a particular Sunday, I
However, the context
of the report raises all aspects and issues which lay at the core
causes and heat of the years of Bloody Turmoil and requires both
communities to face up to the factors of its genesis and to the
necessity of coming to terms with it and with the essential need to
face a common future, via peace and reconciliation.
This need is
reinforced by the cross party, cross community unity shown in
response to the tragic deaths of two soldiers and a Police Service of
Northern Ireland policeman, assassinated last weekend by gunmen
believed to be Republican dissidents from the Real IRA and the
condemnation by all Northern Ireland’s political leaders is a clear
indication of their resolve to stand together to defend the peace
process. The same stance was taken at both the Westminster and the