Consultation on the Consultation – your say on Eames Bradley

“We have a peace process and a political process that are working well, Now the third process, reconcilation.” Ever so gingerly, and leaving a black slick behind him as is his oleaginous style, Shaun Woodward has just launched a 14 week consultation on the Consultative Group on the Past. A bit like the Assembly structure, you may chose to tick the boxes with predictable answers to the Group’s questions in a big glossy NI Office book and /or give your extended views in “Other”. Why so late after Eames/Bradley’s disastrous unveiling in January? Well, there was the firestorm over recognition payments, the Massereene murders, Easter, the purdah leading up to the Euros- and there you have it – why not slap bang in the middle of the marching season?
The Bel Tel reports : ”Secretary of State Shaun Woodward wants people in favour of the widely-criticised £12,000 recognition payment plan to write to him arguing the case for it to go ahead.” This is perfectly accurate. But he also said later: “short of banging my head on the table to make it clear, it isn’t going to happen.” This is the voice of true leadership from Gordon Brown’s latest consigliere. He might also have spelt out that the Assembly will have to find up to £100 million out of the block grant plus whatever they get for J&P, for a Legacy Commission ( or whatever they’ll call it). If that’s what he meant, that is. Woodward appears to have left the whole Dealing with the Past agenda up in the air – or entirely to the Assembly, which is much the same. What’s the betting he’ll park the whole thing in October? Briefings and strong public voices urgently needed. Meanwhile, why isn’t this being reported on the BBC website?

Woodward doesn’t want to dictate the responses you understand, but after talkiing “informally” to the local parties he does offer guidelines
so tactfully you can barely follow him.

Just to repeat, “the one recommendation out of 31” – he didn’t even dare name it – is out, as far as he ‘s concerned. Next question, an amnesty? “ That’s not a word I’d use.”

The Chief Constable is to produce a “short interim report” on the Historic Enquiries Team ( “exemplary work”) by September presumably to assess whether to merge it into – something else. But what?

“Justice is beyond price” he intoned, “ but cost is a factor. A Saville type inquiry is out – for Iraq and for Dealing with the Past. You mightn’t call it a “Legacy” commission or even a “Truth and Reconciliation”commission. “Not a Big Bang” ( not the most fortunate phrase), “ it could be staged.” He seems to be leaning towards one of the lesser suggestions, the one for a reconciliation forum . “I’d like to hear the Finucane family’s views on that” ( I wouldn’t get yourself too excited about that one Shaun). On Eames/Bradley’s mooted cost of reconciliation/legacy, £100 million; “Where’s that to come from?” he asked, I presume rhetorically.

One of the big issues is get agreement is on the definition of victim. “That will be up to the Assembly,” he told the Commons NI Committee. Great, so Shaun’s ducking that one, in fact he seems to be ducking everything except the cost parameters. Why? Because “ we hope we can reach agreement on the final stage of devolution in the coming months”. (So the buck passes over completely then and with it, what hope of agreement you may ask?) “Very helpful” was the definition of Alan McBride , whose wife and father-in-law were killed in the1993 Shankill bombing. No hierarchy of victims and no moral equivalence.

Indeed I have often acknowledged, in my own case of losing my wife in the Shankill bomb, that the mother of the bomber Thomas Begley hurts much like myself. In fact, it could be argued that her pain is more acute, due to the fact that she not only lost a son but that she also has to live with the knowledge that her son killed nine other people. That being the case I believe Mrs Begley should receive all the help society can give her to help her deal with her tragedy; but I have always stopped short of suggesting that that should be monetary in nature.

“Will anything happen?” sighed Kat Hooey in a tone expecting the answer No. But getting the inevitable “Yes, its got to.” from Woodward. But what? I’ll be probably be gone anyway, he actually did suggest.

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