“Most people don’t realise how comprehensive this is.”

In the Belfast Telegraph Liam Clarke has a suggestion for dealing with the past.  It involves the extensive archive the Historical Enquiries Team has gathered together.  From the Belfast Telegraph article

All available evidence on the 3,268 Troubles’ deaths has been assembled in a repository the size of the largest B&Q store near Lisburn. Besides police, Army and MI5 files, the HET has collated Press cuttings, the claims of paramilitary groups, the files of official investigations and more than 3,000 books on the Troubles.

At the click of a mouse investigators can produce graphs of all the attacks linked to a single weapon or arms shipment. They can, for instance, call up all information on red-haired gunmen or victims of the IRA’s internal security department in a specific timeframe.

It is the largest, and most sophisticated, ‘cold case’ review exercise in history but despite all this effort, the PSNI believes that it will be lucky if it can produce even a handful of charges.

The trail is cold after so many years. Exhibits and individual items of evidence have not always been preserved properly and, although what has happened may seem obvious, there is seldom evidence of individual guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

This database contains the best clues we are likely to get to many unanswered questions of the Troubles. It may not be evidence that would stand up in court beyond reasonable doubt, but it is the raw material of history.

What is needed is a process of sifting and assessment by an independent body, which is where Gauck’s advice would be useful.

To get results, strict rules of official secrecy would have to be suspended, though some details might need to be withheld for a fixed time period to protect life.

To command public confidence such a body would need real teeth.

A panel of historians, security experts and victims representatives could go through this material with a view to publishing as much as possible in a coherent and non-judgmental narrative.

They could have a remit to publish as full an account as possible and to review any information withheld at regular intervals – say every five years – to see if the circumstances are right to release it.

The body’s remit could be extended to allow it to bring pressure on paramilitaries and individuals to co-operate, publicly indicating those who they believe hold vital information, but have refused to co-operate. They could name and shame and refusal to co-operate could carry the same penalties as contempt of court.

Publication of some information could compromise the hope of prosecution. We, as a society, would have to assess the trade-off between truth and justice.

As Liam Clarke has argued before

There are no easy choices or pat solutions, but hard cases make bad laws. A system of private conversations after which information is passed on only where it is affirming and comforting would be a travesty of truth recovery. Such a sanitised, fairy-tale version of reality would, in the long term, perpetuate prejudice and division. We need an ambitious scheme to publish information that is now withheld. Reconciliation cannot be built on lies or half-truths. Even a bad bank has to settle its debts some day.

Some people, of course, are “not very interested [in poking] through the embers of the last 30 years…”

Poisonous foundations and all that…

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  • Pete, I think we can be fairly certain that any nefarious activities performed by the ‘chosen few’ will not be included in that archive!

  • Cynic

    So exactly how do you publish unsubstantiated intelligence reports in a non-judgemental manner?

    And just where will will we get these experts. Perhaps some retired newspaper editors?

  • joeCanuck

    This is a bad idea. How trustworthy is the data? Among other things it will contain self serving lies, faulty memories, hearsay presented as information.

  • Look at the G20 affair. A policeman is caught on camera doing what appears to be an unprovoked assault on a bystander.Bystander dies. Open and shut case of manslaughter.

  • AlanMaskey

    Four excellent posts. The data base is, however, impressive.

  • drumlins rock

    At the moment it is “the only show in town” dealing comprehensively with the troubles, it is an evidence gatering machine and by the sounds of it they have gathered quite a bit, I hope they are able to complete their task up to the agreement say. Obviously the information should not be released wholesale but it could form the basis for a “agreed narative” (awful phrase but guess it has to do) sometime down the line.

  • I think that (apart from families of the dead who may request details be held back for their own reasons) – you either put everything up and available or none of it. Once you start mediating it you get onto the planet all the conspiracy theory nuts love. There are enough myths and sufficient cynicism around that people are probably not going to believe half of what is in it anyway (and will judiciously choose what they want to believe or not believe regardless).
    So for every person who will search for the names of SF public figures in the archive to see if they can attach them to some atrocity or other there will be someone else looking at the names in Stalker etc.
    You just need to have a solid waiver on the first page (that you have to click to agree to for use) – ‘This information was gathered as part of an attempt to fully document events from 1966–1996 (or whatever date). This information has not been subject to examination under oath and has therefore not been subject to normal standards of evidence. It may contain inaccuracies, outright lies, flaws and contradictions and use of this information will not exempt you from accepted standards of libel and slander.’
    And you could have that up online in no time.

  • Greenflag

    Some 5 million people have been killed in various conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo over the past 15 years .

    Given the choice between political stability for the future and any number of truth and reconciliation committees and archival retrieval of the 5 million plus deaths I’m sure the people of the Congo would settle for some political stability in the here and now .

    The problem with Kennedy’s archive is that it can never be ‘politically’ neutral .

    Whatever chance people have of finding a ‘perfect’ justice in a functioning pseudo apprentice democracy like Northern Ireland they have little or no chance when the political order is in chaos for whatever reason .

    Time for Kennedy to get real and accept that the GFA is as good as it’s going to get for the next generation . By all means establish an archive . Most people will have other things to do like pay their mortgage , rear their children and get on with life .

    Some parts of the ‘truth’ in Northern Ireland’s political history will never be known either because of official intent or official obfuscation or by any means necessary to prevent the State from being seen in a bad light and not just the NI State but it’s ‘handlers ‘ in eh ‘neutral ‘ London .

    The ‘dead ‘ are not coming back -not in NI not anywhere . Best to focus efforts on ensuring that no more ‘dead’ are added to the unnecessary pile of victims on all sides . And that effort has to be led by ALL the politicians in NI including those with or without ‘pasts’.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Another Journalist (Liam Clarke) and another Idea on how to deal with the Past….assuming of course that people (other than Journos, the chattering classes, the Blog spectators and the Overclass) WANT the Past to be dealt with.
    I daresay that many of those who actually gave a statement in one of these HET cases (I should only speak for myself) envisaged court procedings….not a bunch of journos waving FOI requests.
    The notion that Journos are somehow “qualified” beggars belief.

  • joeCanuck

    Are you perhaps a lawyer by trade, John?
    And, where do you suggest the ordinary man or woman who is libelled will get the money to mount a legal challenge.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    The difference of course with DR Congo is that no local journo is interested.
    No book deal will depend on the Congo.
    No interviews as “experts” on Channel 4 News and Newsnight.
    No finished book gracing the sheves of Easons and Waterstones.
    The Great Big Gravy Train for local journalists is coming to a final stop. I
    It is in the financial interests of Journalists to keep the Troubles going….as much as it is in the interests of Undertakers.
    Theres no money in reporting flower shows in Warrenpoint. No Media Awards for reporting under 10 football matches in Limavady.
    No rubbing shoulders with “Jon” and “Jeremy” for reporting a wedding in Dundonald.
    Such Journalists disatisfied with the Peace Process should probably be called “dissident journalists”

  • drumlins rock

    Sounds like the DR Congo needs another Roger Casement.

  • Sam Flanagan

    Everything that has been assembled should be made available to the public. There is no need for a select bunch of academics to sift through anything.

    If a select bunch wish to assemble themselves to do such a thing then that is up to themselves. Though I doubt any of them will make the effort unless there is a pay day in it for them.

    However, Clarke seems to be dealing with the paramilitary/ security force aspect of the troubles.

    What must be revealed as well is the role of all “politicians” who were either willingly or unwillingly in the service of the security forces.
    The names of all “journalists” who were in fact in the pay of the state. We must not forget “the churchmen” either must we?

    I do get the feeling something along the lines of what is being suggested in Clarke`s article is going to emerge whether the public want it or not.

    It could be called “The DIY version of the troubles.”

    It would be interesting to hear what the local “political parties” think of this particular model which has been suggested.

  • A lawyer? I never been so insulted…
    Sorry, Joe – I had meant the oppposite – that any information should be published with a sturdy health warning as to the accuracy or otherwise – i.e. take all this with a pinch of salt. Obviously get Seamus Heaney or someone to word it a little more elegantly.
    Basically, I meant that anyone quoting the information would have to independently establish whether it was ‘legally’ true or not (i.e. if a journo ran a story quoting information that was subsequently proven to be false and libelous, it would be the responsibility of the journalist to have verified the details). If that makes sense? I’d see that as protection for anyone who’s name is mentioned in it (think of it like parliamentary privilege – the data could even just be placed on the Hansard website)?

  • Greenflag

    ‘where do you suggest the ordinary man or woman who is libelled will get the money to mount a legal challenge.’

    From the same avaricious lawyers who will take his or her case based on a probable 50/50 divvying up of any monies paid out of ‘damages’.

    The swine would sell their mothers to whoremasters as long as the price was right 🙁

  • Glencoppagagh

    Surely only surviving victims and relatives should have access and then only to material relevant to their cases. They will have the limited satisfaction of knowing as much as possible including the names of suspected perpetrators. And if some feel that it forms the basis for some legal action, they should be free to pursue that option.
    The merely curious, professionally or otherwise, should be denied access.

  • joeCanuck

    No, even that is too dangerous. Any material that the authorities think is not robust enough to withstand challenge in court should be kept sealed for a long while. Let the historians have a look in, say, 50 years.

  • Reader

    drumlins rock: Sounds like the DR Congo needs another Roger Casement.
    I’m not so sure about that – they already have a high AIDs rate too.

  • joeCanuck

    Besides, the families etc deserve a personal briefing from the Police Liaison people, not a peek at raw unverified data. Perhaps they already get that. I know that when my sister-in-law was murdered (non-political) the police kept the immediate family informed every step of the way, throughout the investigation and (successful) prosecution. Even arranged transport for our extended family to attend court together.

  • JG Gorman

    “It may not be evidence that would stand up in court beyond reasonable doubt.”

    What, even if it were a Diplock Court?

    “A panel of historians, security experts and victims representatives could go through this material with a view to publishing as much as possible in a coherent and non-judgmental narrative.”

    Perhaps they could just sell the rights to Liam Clarke, and he could provide us with another valuable scoop?

    “Even a bad bank has to settle its debts some day.”

    Really, not if it is Irish. Bank of Ireland has just passed the Euro stress test; even though it will need a further 2bn in equity; and what bill exactly is Anglo Irish Bank having to

    The truth about the troubles and Liam Clarke should know this, is not contained within this place. It has long been placed out of reach.

  • mark

    Exactly JG – any one who thinks ” the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth ” will come out have not been paying attention to the last 15 years. Truth and reconcilliation me arse. Terror and recrimination I fear, I hope I am wrong. I am not from the north and as such cannot really judge local feelings and I really admire the efforts people have made and we have our international repuation back thanks to people whose passion for success overcame so many hurdles but I just think let sleeping ” dogs on the street ” lie. We can’t look back – too many horrible memories. Don’t mean to belittle any suffering and grief, if I have I’m sorry. Goodnight.

  • Euclid

    does this repository contain crimes by the state,rogue cops,branch men who colluded with loyalist killer squads and FRU who turned a blind eye while isolated nationalist homes were attacked? Who murdered teenager Annette mcGavigan
    and the dozens of other nationalists killed by “security forces”

  • “GA: Well, obviously, obviously, I don’t for one second defend or justify the killing of the 15-year-old boy, and with respect while I couldn’t obviously clearly predict what Mountbatten would have thought, I was almost killed on a number of occasions. I don’t embrace that, but I’m philosophical about it, you know, I take up a position, it’s an unpopular position with people who have a different view, so they try to kill me. Lord Mountbatten, I think I was true in what I said, would not have been surprised, but I don’t for a second justify the fact that others died …” ….. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2007/sep/12/gerryadams1

    Hmmm … now that’s a novel admission and damning confession from Mr Adams.

  • Cynic

    Except the DPP has concluded that there is no reliable evidence on which to base such a prosecution …. and the first post mortem report describes his abdomen as full of fluid from a heavily sclerotic liver

  • Ah yes the “reatives for justice site” where the republican murders pages mysteriously do not work- this in spite of public funds to maintain the site Gobshites who major on murder gans deaths

  • Christy Walsh

    Great idea –guess your own suspect! choose the ‘nearest fit’ profile and get a few friends to help you lynch the choosen one.

    If Clark’s idea proves a success then why not do away with Courts, judiciary and all the trappings altogether as it could be applied to fresh cases too. Just think, Saturday nights –a few friends, a few bears, call to your local cop shop and collect a box of the latest evidence on some case and see who you come up with as a suspect. Then go get the bastard.

    I always though Liam Clark was totatally opposed to paramilitary style punishment beatings and shootings –now we know different –his style.