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29 January 2009 Edition

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Truth should be the focus

A Legacy Commission as proposed by the Eames/Bradley Consultation Group is not the independent international, victim-centred truth recovery process which is required. Such an independent international commission should be established by a reputable international body, like the United Nations, as opposed to the British Government.
Even before publication the Consultative Group were already amidst media-led controversy following selective leaking of some recommendations. A one-off payment of £12,000 to the families of those who were killed as a result of the conflict became the initial focus of public debate.
Some unionists, in particular, were outraged, not because of the modest nature of the amount or because of the more pressing issues of truth recovery but because the criteria for qualification suggested by Eames/Bradley failed to maintain a hierarchy of victims.
The issue of parity of recognition has been an ongoing difficulty in which a section of unionists, in particular, have attempted to hold onto their status as primary community, an endeavour clearly at odds with the process of reconciliation.
The authors responded to unionist criticism by saying that the recommendation was not about compensation or financial reward but a recognition of the pain suffered by those bereaved.
In a way the difficulty of this report is ambiguity, in the language deployed, in its underlying preoccupations and in the adequacy of its proposed mechanisms for delivery.
For the families of victims of state and state-sponsored violence, the issue is less one of compensation, but more of truth and, where appropriate, acknowledgement of wrong doing. Key to the success of the peace process has always been the British state’s acknowledgment of its role in the conflict.
In the past acknowledgment and scrutiny were the prerogative of those victims whose suffering had been endorsed as worthy by the British state while those who suffered at the hands of the British state were marginalised, vilified and obstructed in their search for truth, let alone justice. Redressing this deficit, through a process of truth recovery, is fundamental to allowing us all to move forward.
The Consultative Group on the Past is the latest in a long line of British government initiatives many of which have deliberately obstructive rather than enabling the truth to be established. These measures have included interference with the inquest process, curtailing the remit of inquiries, refusing to publish inquiry reports.
It is this legacy of interfering with the process of truth recovery that underpins suspicion and scepticism within the victims’ groups and the families they represent. And this is something the Eames/Bradley group will need to address if they are themselves to escape the baggage of former British initiatives.
A key consideration against which the detail of the Eames/Bradley recommendations will be judged is the independence of any commission, not only in terms of the appointment of personnel but also the paradigms within which they operate, and the access to information they can command.
Throughout the Peace Process the British Government and its agencies have fought to maintain an ideological model of the conflict which best suits their own reputation and agenda. This has sought to lock us into a paradigm that locates the source of the conflict within a ‘two warring tribes’ model in which the British present themselves as neutral arbitrators.
Of course many of the unresolved issues, such as shoot-to-kill and collusion with loyalist death squads, are potentially catastrophic to this perception because they reveal the British at the heart of the conflict.


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