Panorama veteran reporter John Ware interviewed Sir Hugh Orde in the Balmoral Hotel this afternoon in a packed event organised by Relatives for Justice as part of Féile an Phobail.
For 45 minutes Hugh Orde walked through the setup of the HET (never intended to be Article 2 compliant replace the state’s/police service’s responsibility to investigate). His sense is that the HET is currently headed towards being shut down and he views that as failure. Ware: If you’d been in post when the [critical] HMIC report was issued, what would you have done? Orde: Shut it down.
To be frank … the vast number of unsolved cases are not going to get solved now … if we go down a legal route, families will get nothing. In many cases we can go no further legally.
Later he remarked:
We need to step back and look at this holistically. There are so many families out there with nothing so we need to step back … I don’t think the legal process will deliver for them.
John Ware described his sense from the Stevens Inquiries that anyone with a sense of justice would have wanted to see more people being questioned in the witness box to get at the truth, whether or not they particularly wanted them to be jailed for their actions. Hugh Orde remarked that some investigators may well have been disappointed but he understood why the PPS felt the evidence wasn’t strong enough to take forward.
Hugh Orde supports the thrust of the
Consultative Group on the Past report. (The issue around compensation “was hijacked” in his opinion – he feels that the suggestion would have been made [by many] in “quiet conversations”.) Eames/Bradley
At one point he quipped that the English riots [in 2011] were “amateurish” compared with Northern Ireland.
In the question time afterwards, some families related their less than satisfactory experiences with the HET, the lack of structure, the lack of fulsome disclosure, and the extraordinary lengths that state organisations went to to avoid documents being released to relatives.
Many families felt that they had no choice but to go through the HET. Hugh Orde expressed his frustration that “the politicians who commissioned Eames/Bradley then sat on their hands”.
One relative alleged that an HET report was not sent out to her because it was too disturbing.
Hugh Orde rejected any suggestion that he’d set the HET up to stall inquiries into state killings, saying “that was not on my mind”. He added that if the HET had provided answers for just one family it would have been worthwhile, and it had delivered a lot more than that. However, he insisted that “we were never going to solve the issues for everybody”.
As I was changing SD card in the audio recorder, Cllr JJ Magee asked the audience for a show of hands from relatives in the audience. When he asked hands to stay up if they trusted the HET, I’d judge that around three quarters of relatives lowered their hands. John Ware’s attempt to speak up for the “admirable” HET staff he had met as part of his investigations was not popular with the audience.
Families were critical of police investigations in the immediate aftermath of killings, HET processes and also raised the issue of “crippling” plastic bullets.
Hugh Orde noted that the questions were focussed on what had happened in the past rather than on looking at new processes that could help and getting “energy” behind them. The event’s chair commented that “John Ware has delivered more truth through his programmes than [these] processes”.
Denis Bradley summed up at the end of the event. There was still “a lot of festering around our past; we are obviously still deeply hurt by it – we haven’t resolved it”. He believed that Hugh Orde had helped convince the government that a group like Eames/Bradley was necessary.
Denis Bradley repeated Hugh Orde’s statement that the HET was not set up with the intention of dealing with our past: it was only there to do an interim job.
The former co-chair of of the Consultative Group on the Past reminded the audience that it report stated that the local political parties could not resolve the past on their own: “there was too much baggage amongst our political parties to engage and solve this party and it should be the responsibility of the two governments to do that”.
Now the political parties are in the room [eg, Haass negotiations] but the two governments are not. So his group had “failed miserably to convince the two governments that they were the two people with the responsibility to take this on and drive it forward … and to allow policing to get on with its present-day job”.
He asked the relatives in the room to consider: “Who is going to lead this process, if there is going to be any process? … If you want to make a protest I think you your protest needs to be to the two governments.”
Denis Bradley also cautioned:
There are a lot of people in Northern Ireland who do not believe that this can be dealt with. A lot of people believe the you – particularly relatives and families – can never ever ever ever be satisfied. And therefore whether it’s the HET or the situation created under the Consultative Group on the Past, you will never be satisfied and should never be engaged with. I don’t believe that. That’s not my view. I think that is bad politics. I think that is bad sociology. I think that is bad Christianity. I think it’s bad a whole lot of other things.
Thinking about the Maze/Long Kesh stalemate – and yesterday’s example of the Ulster Aviation Society show not being approved – Denis Bradley shared his view that “it suits republicans better that NI is a slightly uncomfortable place and I do not understand why unionism continues to let the past unbalance our situation”.
Fundamentally he identified that without the involvement of the two governments there will not be a proper process. But is anyone confident that the governments want a process to uncover the full truth of the Troubles?