Why has Northern Ireland closed down the organisation dedicated to investigating unsolved killings from the troublesby John Ware / October 16, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
The armed conflict in Northern Ireland has long been over. Yet 16 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, the politicians in Belfast are still arguing over how to deal with the legacy of a conflict that cost more than 3,500 lives. This impasse is dangerous, which is why the Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers is reconvening talks about the past and other contentious issues like flags and marches.
There is no room for complacency about the failure of unionists and republicans to agree the mechanisms for exorcising what that historic Good Friday Agreement described as the “deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering.” Today, politics in Northern Ireland may seem relatively stable. But divisions along sectarian and religious lines in housing, health and education remain deeply rooted. In a real sense, the peace that flowed from Good Friday in 1998 has entrenched the sectarian divide, rather than broken it down.
“We need to deal with the past before it deals with us,” says Jarlath Burns, a member of the Consultative Group, which was established by the government in 2006 as an independent body to seek views across Northern Ireland on how to build a shared future that isn’t overshadowed by three decades of bloodshed. Co-chaired by the former Anglican Primate of All Ireland, Robin Eames, and former priest Denis Bradley, in 2009 the Consultative Group recommended setting up a Legacy Commission headed by an international figure with a £100m budget over five years to combine “processes of reconciliation, justice and information recovery.” However, by 2010, it was clear that the Eames-Bradley proposals did not command sufficient cross-community support. Since then they’ve been gathering dust.
Unionists feared that the Legacy Commission would become a “one-sided truth commission” focusing disproportionately on killings by the security forces, rather than by terrorists, while republicans protested it would be the other way around.
What about the nearest and dearest of those who died? The one thing that all politicians—including NGOs, the police, ministers and community groups—claim to agree on is that the “rights and feelings” of victims should be at the centre of whatever legacy mechanism is agreed.