OTR legislation a non starter?

Three prominent ‘nationalist’ victims groups according to PA, outlined a number of concerns about the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill. They are not happy, for not entirely dissimilar reasons that ‘unionist’ victims groups are not happy. The legislation will limit the degree to which any relative will have access to details of the true circumstances of the death of their loved ones. Relatives for Justice, the Pat Finucane Centre and Justice for the Forgotten, are concerned that the British Government alone will be able to appoint special tribunal and prosecutor. It would prefer to internationalise the process to ensure independence.

Other concerns were:

:: The Northern Ireland Secretary would have the power to direct that an individual who applies for a certificate should remain anonymous.

:: The British Government can direct that all information surrounding a certificate application be withheld from relatives.

:: Decisions on what if any information should be provided to families is discretionary.

:: No allowances had been made for international involvement in the scheme as was the case with prisoner releases, policing reform, decommissioning and the talks process.

:: No proper provision is made for the involvement of relatives;

:: The Northern Ireland Secretary would have sole power to appoint the certification commissioner who would also be open to political interference.

:: An applicant must supply any information or document required by the commissioner but the Northern Ireland Secretary can direct that the PSNI withhold documents and information from the same commissioner;

:: The Government could also withhold information from the certification commissioner.

The Relatives for Justice: “The only truth recovery process that will enjoy cross-community and cross border support is one that has international involvement from the outset”.

It sounds like an internationalised Truth and Justice Commission. But there doesn’t seem to be any great appetite for that amongst any of the political parties.

  • Mick,
    we can nit-pick this stuff for the next 10 years; the bottom-line has surely got to be based on the south african model of reconciliation, post conflict. I don’t think, based upon hearing the statements from all political parties north and south, that ireland, as a whole is ready for this. That saddens me.
    But I suppose in the absence of a political settlement, what else can be expected.

  • Jo

    ..and how much less ready would anyone be for a TUuth & Reconcilation arrnagement of ANY kind, given the revulsion and vehemence directed against a group of people who as far as any of us know, are unproven to have done anything – UNLESS AND UNTIL THESE PROPOSALS FORCE THEIR HAND….

  • Pete Baker

    Worth pointing out that there’s a more recent example of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission we could be looking at – in East Timor.. except, as previously noted, its reported findings wouldn’t be quite so readily accepted by certain parties here – “absence of justice.. is a fundamental obstacle in the process of building a democratic society”

  • Whatabout

    IMHO I think the families of all victims need to see those who are admitting carrying out the act that made their loved ones victims. I think it could happen – but it’s too early in the process.

  • Pete
    I take the point, well made.
    However, forgive the blunt analogy, but the Falls Rd lined with crucified Republicans, and the Shankill Rd lined up with crucified collusionists and collaborators in state crime, is also not a going to solve the problem.
    When is Justice justice, and when is it Revenge?

  • In such a religiously zealous society as norn iron, you’d think people would have read their bibles. Aren’t half the DUP ministers?
    Mercy triumphs over judgement.”(James 2:13).

  • Pete Baker


    For me its a more basic issue than attempting to balance justice against revenge. As the quote suggests, unless we begin by embedding justice in the ground rules for moving forward we’re not going to succeed in achieving that democratic society.

    So far, the self-interested groups who have been allowed to set down those ground rules have shown no interest in justice, and scant regard for truth.

  • pete
    as you highlight begin, I’m minded to say that there must be an ending to have a beginning.
    SF have accepted that there’ll probably never be a prosecution for any of their victims of collusion; and this legislation addresses the salient point that the GFA let out the prisoners, but not those OTR’s; who by proxy ought to be included.
    I don’t really see the problem.
    Oh I read this line somewhere:
    SF vs the DUP as:
    The unrighteous versus the self-righteous.
    Care to comment 😉

  • Pete Baker

    Hmm.. s-l

    There’s a danger of misinterpreting what I’m saying, as there always is when this particular issue is discussed.. as well as many others.

    The justice aspect I’m referring to is one which is evenly applied.. unless that happens it’s not a foundation for a democratic society – as the East Timorese Commission report highlighted.

    In the current, ongoing, process here various self-interested groups have actively sought to abandon any attempt at justice to, allegedly, facilitate that same process.. including the early-release scheme and the application of the licencing which accompanied it.. the destination of the process is a matter of concern because of that.

  • Crataegus


    I agree we must endeavour to assert the primacy of Justice and truth over expediency, self interest and convenience. Current perception of the process is of something unsavoury and unprincipled and that is corroding support. The victims should now be centre stage the perpetrators have been there long enough.

  • Crateagus

    All of us are victims when justice itself is the victim

  • Hmm.. I don’t actually subscribe to the notion that ‘victims’ have a higher claim on the truth, or to justice, than anyone else.

    Personally.. I’d relegate them to the standard level of abuse that the rest of us currently occupy. And to the same ascribance to equality to access. Good luck.

  • Jo


    Given the preponderance of the total murder count occurring in the first half of the 1970s, most murder victims are now more than 30 years dead. At any later stage of the process, many of the victims families may themselves have passed on. I think this decade has to see something happen.

  • Ian

    If Republicans want the OTR’s to be able to return without fear of jail then obviously they have to accept that security force members shouldn’t face prison either for pre-1998 offences. Sinn Fein seem to have accepted this.

    However, the corollary of this is that, if freed republican prisoners are to play no part in the new police service, then neither should human rights abusers that transferred over from the old RUC (the ‘bad apples’ that Patten stated should be rooted out). It should be written into the Bill that anyone availing themselves of the de facto amnesty under the Bill, is statutorily barred from membership of the Security Forces.
    The British Government don’t appear to have accepted this logical outworking.

    This may explain the open-ended nature of the Bill’s provisions. The lack of a one-year timeframe is unlikely to benefit On-The-Run republicans who would wish to return ASAP, but it may well suit someone like, say, a serving policeman 5 years from retirement, who may have been involved in collusion in the past but who doesn’t want to admit to it within the next 12 months – thereby risking a premature end to their career – when the chances are they’ll never face prosecution anyway. The Bill as drafted, though, gives them a get-out-of-jail-free card in the unlikely event that they ever are charged with collusion-related offences.

  • Jo

    “Hmm.. I don’t actually subscribe to the notion that ‘victims’ have a higher claim on the truth, or to justice, than anyone else.”

    The most vociferous, by default, do make such a claim, if only implicitly.

  • Whatabout

    Jo, I don’t know if you’re directly affected in that you lost someone close, but, from those I know – children of victims who are adults now, a lot of them would like to physically see those who carried out the deed.

    Yesterday in Liverpool Anthony Williams mother gave a tremendous example. She went to court, saw the killers and forgave them. Even if she hadn’t forgiven I think the experience would have been positive for her and her family.

    Let’s give the victims families here a chance to do the same. Any who feel they’ve moved on and don’t want to go see them at court at least they have the choice.

    The tribunal proposed is geared towards saving the killers’ feelings and is a trade off as part of this process – that’s unfair.

  • Jo

    whatabout: I agree with you. I expect to see some form of change of the proposals but the end result will not only by to the satisfaction of the OTRs but also to some victims.

    Not all victims relatives are like Anthony Williams mother – in fact, I wonder how many are.

    I did a piece on this on JOBLOG – contrasting the reactions of some victims relatives to others. Those who forgave, appeared to support the process; those who demanded sackcloth and ashes before forgiveness were more likely to oppose the process.

  • As I said before when Justice itself is the victim we are all victims and we all have a right and I wiukld say duty, to be vociferous in defending it and that includes the victims.

    A secondary issue is that of the retraumatisation of very many victims that goes way beyond just upset or distress but takes them into the realms of serious mental health repercussions. Although the victims concerned have the greatest vested interest in this, the effects will be more univeral, in terms of criminality, drain on the health services, the corrosive impact on family life and the damage done to the coming generations.

  • Whatabout

    I agree. It’s a cop out by all involved. The repercussions will be felt at some stage. It’s ironic that it’s not attracting more comment, probably in light of the fact that the amnesty may include any security force members.