Uncovering the truth is a central issue to building a civil society and giving the North’s citizens – and indeed many in the Republic – confidence that at least part of the past has been addressed. But, so far, the truth has proved elusive – obstructed, many believe, by a desire to keep the past buried. The response has, to date, been disorganised and drawn-out.
In fact, he has in mind the manifest failure of the official Inquiry mechanism to deliver anything useful in throwing light on the past:
The most high-profile tribunal, the Saville Inquiry, has spent most of the past seven years looking at the events of Bloody Sunday, and has cost an estimated stg£200 million to date. Yet, so far, it has reported nothing back, in what most people regard as an open-and-shut case.
While most of the outstanding issues that bedevilled the peace process have been resolved, the issue of collusion between the state and armed groups means that any truth commission would likely prove politically embarrassing to the government of Britain – and possible, of Ireland.
He picks up on a meeting of victims groups in Belfast last week, including the Pat Finucane Centre and Relatives for Justice, which focus primarily on individual cases of injustice against nationalist victims:
‘‘What we need is an independent, international commission with the power to investigate and look at the killings which took place,” said Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre. ‘‘That would allow questions to be asked that currently just aren’t being asked, and it would do it in a joined-up way, which hasn’t happened so far.”
For some people, however, the idea of a truth commission raises the possibility that those responsible for murder, especially the state, will escape any punishment and get off the hook.
‘‘Let’s be honest, no one is on the hook, certainly not the British government, so I don’t think opinions can be made based too closely on that,” said O’Connor. ‘‘I think that it is very clear that we need some sort of public forum to be established whereby all of this can be addressed clearly.”
In an era in the North’s politics when armed groups and political parties are being urged to face up to the future, few issues will signal progress more than getting to the truth of the Troubles.
But that depends entirely on political will. And given, the Enquiries Act 2005 has cut off the Saville route, and the curbing of powers for the Police Ombudsman allows only for partial disclosure of its work, not to mention various noises off about the slicing of budgets, the signs of that happening in any way other than a haphazard, “disorganised and drawn-out” way seem remote.
The poison, it would seem, will remain trapped within the system. As such, it is hard to see this suggestion has much chance of fulfilment, in the short or long term.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty