Giving advice to the government … the Commission for Victims and Survivors

Logo of Commission for Victims and SurvivorsAs Pete pointed out last night, the NIO published its summary of organisation and individual responses to the Eames Bradley report the Recommendations of the Consultative Group on the Past, which also referenced the submission from the Commissioners for Victims and Survivors (CVS) that deliberately missed the NIO’s consultation deadline but was instead submitted at the end of June. [Updated – The CVS report got a mention on Slugger on its publication at the end of June.]

In many ways, there are few surprises in the NIO summary document. Of more interest would be the original responses by organisations (and in some case individuals) that contain their fully argued positions. Unfortunately these haven’t been published online – though most should only be an FOI away.

However, the thicker Advice to Government issued by the CVS is a much more interesting read. Like a good (?) sermon, it says everything not once, not twice, but three times by spelling out their headline conclusions in the opening Summary, then ploughing through the detail, before finishing with a summary Annex reprising their conclusions.

In their advice, the CVS are much more supportive of the Consultative Group’s report than they were at the time of its publication. Having given them a “superficial kicking to create distance” at the time of publication, the CVS now reflect that much of the underlying report was good, while taking issue with some of the detail. They say:

The Commission commends Lord Eames, Denis Bradley and the their colleagues in the Consultative Group for the incisive analysis of dealing with the past which is set out in their report … we believe that it will be an important reference document for all who would seriously examine the issues involved inn dealing with the past.

We agree with the Consultative Group’s assertion that ways have to be found to deal with the past … Left unaddressed and unattended, the past will continue to seep into our times in poisonous and destructive ways.

The Commission “believes that the Consultative Group identified the key ingredients for a comprehensive treatment of the past” but “believe that the Consultative Group’s implementation strategy was wrong”. In particular, they are critical of the Legacy Commission which lacked the subtlety and nuance of a strategy that could have been adopted to gently “build consensus and commitment at all levels of our society”.

The craving for truth seems to be a nationalist pang.

There would appear to be an appetite across the nationalist community for a comprehensive attempt to engage with the past. However, without the participation of the unionist tradition, any approach to the past will be ineffective, distorted and ultimately a threat to peace.

It is obvious that the CVS have learnt much from the nine months of discussions at the pilot Forum for Victims and Survivors. It seems to ground the Commission’s thinking and reinforce the four three commissioners’ reactions.

A peaceful society is one … in which people are comfortable with difference and actually make use of diversity (rather than simply ‘celebrate it’).

There’s some realism when the CVS conclude that

While it is important to deal with the legacy of the past, it should be kept in correct proportion to the greater social and economic challenges facing our society. We must deal with the past without living in it.

I wonder how the Eames/Bradley report might have been different if they had had nine months of engagement with a fixed inner sanctum of victims and survivors on top of the other bodies and people with whom they consulted? Perhaps Eames/Bradley were always doomed to be the messengers who would be shot, testing out some policies and taking the flak for the ones that would be picked out and would dominate the media and popular angst.

In many ways the £12,000 hasn’t gone away (you know).

In its report in January 2009, the Consultative Group sought to give recognition to victims and survivors in its proposal for a £12,000 payment to the next of kin of the dead of the conflict. At the time, the Commission expressed its support for that proposal. We did so with the knowledge of many bereaved individuals who have had years of struggle to make ends meet and whose circumstances have been beyond the consciousness of wider society. For that purpose, we believe that a one-off payment would be a good and useful form of recognition of their enduring struggle.

However, the controversy which erupted around the proposal for a recognition payment divided the community and became a scandal which inhibited the development of a fuller debate of the Consultative Group’s report and its other thirty recommendations.

Given that the recommendation did not address the needs of the seriously injured and that it is now clear that to proceed with such a payment would reignite division and be counter-productive, we concur with the previous Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward, that it is not appropriate to introduce a Recognition Payment at this time.

Note – “at this time”.

Later, the Commission’s report adds:

While the Consultative Group’s specific proposal to use a financial payment as a method of recognition became mired in controversy, the Commission concurs with the pilot Forum’s view that it is important to give due recognition to victims.

Further discussions are promised on the theme of enabling greater recognition.

There’s some interesting analysis about the Historical Enquiries Team.

The review of investigations into conflict-related deaths undertaken by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has led in only one instance to a recommendation for prosecution being made to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in respect of a death occurring prior to the Good Friday Agreement. In that case the PPS determined that the standard of evidence was not sufficiently met to pursue prosecution.

The most recent figures on the work of the HET show that by may 2010, the HET had completed 753 reviews (relating to 982 victims and 1,058 families), none of which was resulted in a conviction.

However, the Commission do point to case law that indicates “that proving the security of the chain of custody of physical evidence in historical cases could be a major stumbling block”. So they conclude:

Therefore, whilst some might question the competence of the HET or PPS, it would seem to be the case that unsolved historical murders present few evidential opportunities after so many years.

On the other hand, the HET has been judged by the commission as being “more effective in providing information to families than delivering justice in terms of court proceedings.”

Noting the recently concluded Bloody Sunday Inquiry and the Prime Minister’s indication “that Government will not be disposed to any further open-ended, costly Tribunals of Inquiry”, the Commission suggest:

It is out view that with creativity and imagination, an alternative to costly tribunals can and should be found.

Slugger readers have never been accused of lacking imagination. So give it your best in the comments below!

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  • joeCanuck

    I didn’t realize that there was a commission for Victims AND Survivors.
    I’m a birth survivor; where do I apply for my 12 Grand?

  • Pete Baker


    On a pedantic point, “and also released the submission from the Commissioners for Victims and Survivors (CVS)”?

    The CVS ‘Advice to Government’ was published at the end of June – as noted at the time.

  • Granni Trixie

    The 12K has taken away public recognition that ‘recognition’ of what they have experienced is something which will help victims-survivors on their journey to make meaning of it. Otherwise their suffering is relegated to an everyday occurence, so get on with it.
    And what we have done to each other here (in my opinion) has been inhumane. Everytime you think you have heard it all someone comes on the radio and you hear an awful story that tells me at least that the past is not going to go away unless there is some means of letting these people air their stories to let others recognise and legitimise their pain.

    The problem with the 12K form of recognition was that it was crude, and unambiguously awarded equivalence to all. To me whilst there may be equivalence of suffering there are differences in circumstances hence we need a process or method capable of taking care of the nuances of peoples position.

    As regards the contribution of the HET – many have spoken highly of how the HET dealt with them so that is good to know. But I was talking to a freind whom they approached. Although this family dealt with a murder of a loved one since 1972 by keeping the lid on it, with some misgivings they went along with the HET investigation which at this point has left them with less peace of mind. They had constructed a narrative in which their loved one was killed instantly but now they know that infact he was abducted and must have known his impending killing. which is renewing their pain.

    I do not use this example against having an HET (infact I fully support its work) but rather to illustrate the differences in the needs of victims of the troubles.

    That individual’s representing this diverse constituency are sustaining a Victim’s Forum is a ray of light on what to do about the past.

  • Munsterview

    Forcing the organization to fold was never a question of finances : rather finances provided the Government with the excuse it needed to silence a lot of embarrassing questions.

    Eg why were bags of bomb forensic samples send North to ‘experts’ for ‘impartial’ examination?

    Why did the Brits not provide the requested documentation?

    Why was Judge Barrons principle assistant a Senior Counsel better known for defending the State Side against sculduggery than exposing the State ?

    This is not about closing the stable door after the horse is gone, there was never a door in this particular stable the and by letting it become derelict Fianna Failure and State Forces hope that people will eventually forget that there was ever a horse in it to begin with!

  • Damian O’Loan

    This is an interesting document, it’s worth the extra attention you’ve given it. Apart from rejecting the fixed payment, it has other features perhaps more notable.

    It says that the process should be carried out by the British.Irish governments, and Stormont’s role should be confined to a critical and commentary one. That strikes me as quite an indictment, so I’ll be interested to see if it’s challenged.

    There is something of a contradiction, however, as it also calls on the Assembly to replace the existing definition of a victim. This is another good challenge because I doubt any party is content with it now and it goes to the heart of the problem.

    On the other hand, it appears a little simplistic at times, with the repitition you mention, the embarrassing chapter on the ‘universality of truth’, borderline pretentiousness here and there and not much detail.

    As regards value for money so, poor, but perhaps a more useful intervention than Eames/Bradley after all.

  • joeCanuck

    Time to put it all behind us. As for who is a victim, you will never get agreement in N.I.

  • As regards value for money so, poor, but perhaps a more useful intervention than Eames/Bradley after all.

    But without the foundation of Eames/Bradley, they wouldn’t have had such a contribution!

  • The north is not South Africa. If there is to be reconciliation, the less ‘truth’ there is, the better.

    No one shines in hindsight.