As the signs grow that a dying Labour government will gift Eames- Bradley to the Tories and the fundamentally divided local parties, the lawyerly independent group Committee for the Administration of Justice has come out with a bold rights based approach to dealing with the past. The committee clearly fears that Labour in the form of the oleaginous Shaun Woodward ( with the very deepest respect”) will continue to push the soft options of story telling and clearing up perceived anomalies for victims. The main proposal for a Legacy Commission now looks like a non-starter. The CAJ even defend what they admit are the deeply divisive recognition payments, pointing out that nobody is compelled to accept them. I draw no particular satisfaction in believing that most of its recommendations will never happen, because that leaves us with the basic conundrum what exactly do we do now? National governments will duck it, local parties will stay deadlocked. The big question for me is: does legally-backed excavation of as many details of what happened help reconciliation? The short answer is probably not reconciliation as the committee fairly point out cant be forced and rests more the present than the past. Is the CAJ right when they say:
In our view, there is a need for a genuine and transparent process which addresses the conflicting myths of the past. Otherwise, the danger is that these myths about the conflict will clash in another generation or two. History suggests that without resolution, conflict re-emerges after fifteen years.
Independent scrutiny of the states role in the conflict is a key requirement of this
process. Impunity is the most dangerous legacy. If the state and its agents feel that
they can get away with violations of human rights, then any attempt to deal with the past
will fail, with the associated danger that the mistakes of the past will then recur.
The response to the (Eames/Bradley) Report, particularly in relation to the recognition payment, has operated to politicise the debate and to make it a controversial topic. CAJ believes that this negative reception should not frame the remainder of the debate. Remedy and reparation have been a key aspect of many truth recovery processes, and it is in this context that we address the issue of recognition payments. It is unfortunate that the government has seen fit to rule out this recommendation prior to consultation. We are convinced that the Consultative Group would not have included that proposal were it not an intrinsic part of a balanced overall package. It would be important that the proposal is considered on its merits.
The temptation arising from this consultation will be to develop a process that selects the
easy proposals which have most support, such as story-telling and discussion fora of
various kinds. In fact, the process must deal with the hard issues. As the government
with ultimate responsibility for this jurisdiction throughout the conflict, the UK government
with the Irish government needs to address the difficult issues as well as the easy
ones, not least by establishing an independent commission with sufficient powers and
It is clear that with a proper human rights compliant approach to other
issues, reconciliation can be an outcome of the process, and it is questionable if genuine
reconciliation is at all possible without a human-rights based approach. The important
issue will therefore be to ensure that human rights are central to the remit and operating
style of the Commission and its various units.
What the Reconciliation Forum would do; how t would operate or its what its aims are.
why the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission have not been given a role?
The Four strands of work of the Legacy Commission
reconciliation, review and investigation, information
recovery and thematic investigation
We are completely opposed to the notion that the inquiry into the Pat Finucane case
should be dropped.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London