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17 January 2008 Edition

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Call for truth recovery process tailored to Irish needs

Representatives of Relatives For Justice, the Pat Finucane Centre, Justice for the Forgotten, an Fhírinne, and the Ardoyne Commemoration project, who have called for an international truth commission

Representatives of Relatives For Justice, the Pat Finucane Centre, Justice for the Forgotten, an Fhírinne, and the Ardoyne Commemoration project, who have called for an international truth commission

BY LAURA FRIEL

A TRUTH COMMISSION to examine the conflict in Ireland should not follow the South African ‘confrontational’ model, a coalition of victims’ groups announced at Stormont last week.
The group called for an international truth commission, available for all victims who wish to have their cases investigated, with a focus on truth acknowledgement rather than prosecutions.
“The current investigatory, prosecutorial and judicial arrangements offer no realistic prospect of truth recovery for bereaved families,” said the coalition.
“We believe that the only way to bring justice to the greatest number of families is through an international, independent truth commission. The criminal justice system has frustrated rather than facilitated access to the truth. All combatant groups – British, republican and loyalist – should co-operate in good faith and have a moral duty to do so,” said the coalition.
The coalition includes representatives from the Belfast-based Relatives for Justice; the Derry-based Pat Finucane Centre; the group representing victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, Justice for the Forgotten; as well as An Fhirinne, a campaign group around collusion; Firinne from Fermanagh; and the North Belfast Ardoyne Project.
Speaking to the media, Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre said they are not calling for a South African-style confrontational truth and reconciliation commission with public hearings but “a process that is tailor-made to our circumstances”. He explained:
“We are talking about largely private hearings. We are talking about an organisation that can mediate that process of truth recovery from those who have it to those who need it and deserve it – the families who have lost loved ones right across the board.”
A consultative group established by the British Government and headed by former Church of Ireland Primate Robin Eames and former Police Board vice-chair Denis Bradley are currently considering ways of dealing with the past.
Speaking ahead of a meeting with Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, the British government established group denied it had already drawn up any recommendations.
The coalition of victim support groups said that international law makes the case that states undergoing transition are faced with certain legal obligations, including the provision of independent investigation of past violations, upholding victim’s rights, providing adequate reparations to victims, preventing future abuses and preserving and enhancing peace. The coalition said:
“We believe that an independent, international truth commission provides the best opportunity for truth recovery for the greatest number of those affected by the conflict. We believe this will contribute to individual and societal healing and recovery, dealing with the legacy of the past in a positive way and building a better future for everyone.”
The call for an international, independent truth commission was also heard in Dublin this week as the coalition of groups representing over 1,100 victims of the conflict, from all parts of the island held a press conference in Dublin.
Margaret Urwin, of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings victims’ group, Justice for the Forgotten, said the decision to hold press conferences both North and South was made to bring home the fact that people died on both sides of the border and that this is an all-Ireland campaign.
In a statement the coalition said that any truth commission should be available as a mechanism for all victims who wish to have their cases investigated thoroughly.
“The criminal justice system has frustrated rather than facilitated access to the truth. British and Irish state policies and actions, those of non-state actors and the role of civil society in both jurisdictions should be examined.”
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP paid tribute to the victims’ groups involved.  The West Belfast MP said that the groups who have come together are to be commended for their dedication and commitment to the victims’ cause over the decades and in the enormous work on this particular statement calling for the establishment of an independent, international commission to deal with the past.
“Sinn Féin is committed to finding a way forward on this issue,” Gerry Adams stressed. “We accept that dealing with legacy issues is an onerous task. However, it is critically important that the past is dealt with and a mechanism found which treats all victims equally and allows families of victims an avenue to acknowledgement, apology and truth. We are keen to assist such a process.”
Adams added:
“The formation of such a mechanism is the duty and responsibility of all political parties and wider civic society. Political posturing and political self-interest cannot be allowed to be an obstacle to moving this situation forward. All of us have a responsibility to create the circumstances through which the needs of all victims are met.”
Attending the Dublin press conference, Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan said the British Government in particular has a huge role to play in contributing to a truth process. The trend of successive investigations and reports into the conflict showed the British policy of refusing to admit to anything that they had been involved in.
“Everybody on this island has a part to play in healing wounds of the past, from political parties to armed groups to civil society.
“I believe that the majority of us are ready to engage in this process but I am concerned at the British Government’s continued refusal to accept the pivotal role it played in the conflict.
“For us to move on from the pain of the past and to give the victims and their families the process they need and deserve, the British Government must be willing to come clean on its input into the conflict.”
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