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

In the Sunday Times Liam Clarke draws an interesting analogy between the ‘bad bank’ solution to the credit crisis, and the Consultative Group on the Past’s leaked proposals to deal with the poisonous foundations of The Process™. And he focuses on one of the less widely discussed proposals. From the Sunday Times.

Eames and Bradley are likely to suggest a three- to five-strong Legacy Commission with an international chairman and separate divisions to deal with truth recovery and investigation. The body would sit for a fixed period — but no more than five years, it is hoped — and it will have the power to conduct hearings in private. If a prosecution seems impossible, then victims will have the option of authorising an offer of immunity to perpetrators who are prepared to own up about what happened.

A similar tactic was used when paramilitaries were guaranteed that decommissioned weapons could not be used as evidence for their prosecution. Later, special legislation was passed in London and Dublin offering immunity to those who gave information about the burial places of the disappeared. The basic formula of trading the hope of justice for information is not a new one.

The new body needs sticks as well as carrots, though. It should have powers to penalise those who refuse to co-operate, both by naming and shaming and by imposing penalties for contempt.

A victim-centred approach is welcome but victims and perpetrators are not always distinct categories and the whole of society is, to some degree, both victim and aggressor. Not having a hierarchy of victims means greater openness than Eames and Bradley may be ready for. Bradley, for instance, has suggested society is not ready for the truth. He gave the example of a mother mourning her son as a paramilitary martyr without knowing that he was also an informer.

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.

That would be where ‘justice’ should come in..

Or will our new democratic institutions [or the parties within them? – Ed] never be “strong enough to withstand the truth”?