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14 September 2006 Edition

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Debating truth recovery

BY LAURA FRIEL

A major Sinn Féin conference on the issue of truth recovery was held in Belfast's Balmoral Hotel on Saturday, 9 September, where a wide range of views was aired.

Opening the debate, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said that the issue of truth recovery, like policing, equality, national and democratic rights, is an issue of struggle. Addressing over 100 activists gathered in West Belfast last weekend to take part in the discussion, Kelly said the debate needed to be firmly set "in the context of how our opponents and enemies have approached this issue to date.

"Their approach has always been to blur and distort and hide the truth from those families and organisations seeking truth and justice. The issue of truth recovery has been used as another tool in their campaign against Irish republicans to diminish the struggle for national and democratic rights," said Kelly.

A site of struggle

Considering some contemporary journeys into truth recovery - the Saville Tribunal into Bloody Sunday and the collusion campaign following the killing of Pat Finucane - Kelly said that these experiences of relentless campaigning in support of the victims, and the ongoing reluctance of the British Government and its agencies, show that truth recovery is a site of struggle.

"Truth is an issue of struggle. The platforms on which truth is discussed are sites of struggle. That struggle is happening now. It's going on all around us. And for our opponents, success lies in minimising media coverage of British and Irish Government cover-ups and maximising allegations against Irish republicans," said Kelly.

"Campaigns by family members and groups like Justice for the Forgotten, Relatives for Justice, the Pat Finucane Centre, Fírinne in Fermanagh and the collusion campaign An Fhírinne are part of that struggle, and it's our job to get behind those campaigns and give them every support we can," said Kelly.

"Over the past ten years, John Reid and Paul Murphy, British Secretaries of State, have turned their attention to the issue of truth recovery processes. Not because they are champions of truth, but because they were seeking to tee-up a process or processes which could be used to bash republicans whilst minimising British Government responsibility for the conflict and ignoring the causes and the context," said Kelly.

Reminding his audience that failing to prepare is preparing for failure, Kelly said that republicans must engage in the truth battles of today around collusion, Nelson, FRU, MI5 and British Government political responsibility while at the same time preparing for the 'truth' challenges put up to us by our opponents.

British strategy

Issues arising out of the armed conflict aren't going to go away, Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy told the seminar. "The enemies of republicanism are intent on raising highly selective aspects of the past as a barricade against our political advances," said Conor.

"So what is our position on dealing with the past? In 2003 Sinn Féin published a document calling for a focused discussion on whether or not there should be an independent truth process to examine the causes, nature and extent of the conflict. Is this enough?"

Murphy outlined the objectives as to promote the rights of victims, to combat ongoing attempts to criminalise the struggle and to ensure the British don't wriggle off the hook of the conflict.

"The British Government has a strategy. It is to minimise media coverage of its own corporate responsibility for the conflict and to maximise allegations against republicans," said Murphy.

To this end, the British Government has used a number of measures including the Inquiries Act, Historical Enquiries Team, Victims Commissioner, OTR legislation and Public Interest Immunity Certificates.

"The past is a site of struggle. We need a position that is strong on the integrity of the republican struggle and at the same time morally credible. The SDLP, unionists and the parties of the 26 Counties like to think that our past is our Achilles heel. We have three options: we can act defensively, try some halfway house or take the issue by the scruff of the neck," said Murphy.

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