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!

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.