“Most people don’t realise how comprehensive this is.”

In the Belfast Telegraph Liam Clarke has a suggestion for dealing with the past.  It involves the extensive archive the Historical Enquiries Team has gathered together.  From the Belfast Telegraph article

All available evidence on the 3,268 Troubles’ deaths has been assembled in a repository the size of the largest B&Q store near Lisburn. Besides police, Army and MI5 files, the HET has collated Press cuttings, the claims of paramilitary groups, the files of official investigations and more than 3,000 books on the Troubles.

At the click of a mouse investigators can produce graphs of all the attacks linked to a single weapon or arms shipment. They can, for instance, call up all information on red-haired gunmen or victims of the IRA’s internal security department in a specific timeframe.

It is the largest, and most sophisticated, ‘cold case’ review exercise in history but despite all this effort, the PSNI believes that it will be lucky if it can produce even a handful of charges.

The trail is cold after so many years. Exhibits and individual items of evidence have not always been preserved properly and, although what has happened may seem obvious, there is seldom evidence of individual guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

This database contains the best clues we are likely to get to many unanswered questions of the Troubles. It may not be evidence that would stand up in court beyond reasonable doubt, but it is the raw material of history.

What is needed is a process of sifting and assessment by an independent body, which is where Gauck’s advice would be useful.

To get results, strict rules of official secrecy would have to be suspended, though some details might need to be withheld for a fixed time period to protect life.

To command public confidence such a body would need real teeth.

A panel of historians, security experts and victims representatives could go through this material with a view to publishing as much as possible in a coherent and non-judgmental narrative.

They could have a remit to publish as full an account as possible and to review any information withheld at regular intervals – say every five years – to see if the circumstances are right to release it.

The body’s remit could be extended to allow it to bring pressure on paramilitaries and individuals to co-operate, publicly indicating those who they believe hold vital information, but have refused to co-operate. They could name and shame and refusal to co-operate could carry the same penalties as contempt of court.

Publication of some information could compromise the hope of prosecution. We, as a society, would have to assess the trade-off between truth and justice.

As Liam Clarke has argued before

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.

Some people, of course, are “not very interested [in poking] through the embers of the last 30 years…”

Poisonous foundations and all that…