Nuala O’Loan: “that is not the foundation for a just society.”

A novel suggestion for dealing with the past from former Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, in a Guardian interview. And it’s not an “absurd” and “disingenuous” call for an international ‘truth’ commission.  From the Guardian article

…the former ombudsman, now Lady O’Loan, stressed that a “Waking the Dead” style unit investigating Ulster’s recent conflict would not be tantamount to a truth commission like that which dealt with the apartheid era in South Africa.

“There should be one unified operation to deal with the past and it must be independent,” she said.

It is not a truth commission because it would require that all the parties to the conflict tell the truth and I see no evidence that the parties are ready for that yet. And I am not sure that they ever will be.” [added emphasis]

The victims were owed something, she said, and that should be a single independent historical investigations unit.

“This unit should have full police powers to arrest, to search, to seize property and material, anything relevant to the investigation.

“If you had all those powers and a single unit you would get huge efficiencies because we would not have three organisations doing the same work effectively trawling over the same ground.”

[The “longed for tidal wave of justice”, after all? – Ed]  Hope, and history…

As the Guardian article goes on to note

O’Loan said dealing properly with Northern Ireland’s recent violent past would undermine the justification for the armed campaigns by the Real IRA and other dissident terror groups.

Revealing the truth and the reality behind all the armed actions of the Troubles would remove the argument for further violence, she said.

I think if we are to manage the problem of the Real IRA we have to deal with the historic problem of criminality, murder etc in our time.

“I know that people say this will disturb the peace process by investigating the past but we are moving on and we need to do so on a sound, just basis.” [added emphasis again]

Left to their own devices, the policy of telling lies will continue to be regarded as “an excusable and acceptable tactic” by some.

And there’s another important point to be made

…O’Loan said thousands more had been affected by the violence beyond the families of the 3,200-plus killed. She said that up to 150,000 to 200,000 people in Northern Irish society would have been damaged in the conflict.

“The impact on the whole of the community given that figure is huge. When you have a situation where there are people who can see others still walking down the street whom they know committed murder, that is not the foundation for a just society.”

The human rights campaigner denied she was “kicking at sleeping dogs” in her demand for the single unsolved crimes unit and creating the conditions to destabilise the political settlement in Northern Ireland.

“You would argue that the investigations the police ombudsman’s office have carried out have set people free,” she said. “In the case of the loyalists in North Belfast, as a result of these inquiries in that area ordinary people are freer than ever from the paramilitaries. It has changed the balance of power.” [added emphasis throughout]

Which is related to the point being made in the piece I quoted here.

One more quote from the Guardian article

On her suggestion for a unified investigatory body with powers to arrest and prosecute she added: “I have seen nobody who wants to do that.

My reading of what the politicians are saying is that they would much rather bury this stuff; that they want to live in the present. But the problem with living in the present is that if you don’t deal with the past then you don’t learn from it and you don’t prevent it from recurring.” [added emphasis]


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  • Mick Fealty

    From your lips Nuala…

  • Decimus

    You may either win your peace or buy it: win it, by resistance to evil; buy it, by compromise with evil.
    John Ruskin

    We did here by a combination of both. The IRA were worn down to the point were they were ready to sue for peace. They were then bought off by a number of compromises. I strongly suspect that one of those compromises was that their membership would not be pursued for their crimes. If those crimes were indeed properly reinvestigated then certain very senior members of the NI Assembly would find themselves being interviewed in Antrim ‘s Serious Crimes Suite.

    I very much doubt that would be allowed to happen.

    The very same people who should be facing prosecution for serious and highly disgusting crimes are of course the same people who call out for the prosecution of members of the security forces. An utterly bizzare situation. You cannot have one without the other.

  • Framer

    This proposal is just a bureaucratic rearrangement. The same evidence as the police have would have to be deployed while it is hardly likely there is any remaining a decade or more on except in academic archives.

    The real need is for some sort of historic commission to look at causes, whether groups behaved at least according to their own lights and whether there is evidence of war crimes by their leaders or indeed attempted genocide.

  • Cynic2

    “The real need is for some sort of historic commission to look at causes, ”

    Looking at causes immediately politicises it. has anyone every heard a victims relatives ask the cause? The often ask why him / her? But that is a different question.

    As for the generality of the O’Loan plan, on one level its sensible. But on another it cost a fortune and who will be its Ombudsman? Who wills elect its staff? Who will they be accountable to?

    More damningly, we have a police force to do these things. Yet here we sit 10 years after Patten and still be are told that the PSNI seems not fit to be trusted by Nationalism. Why?

  • Into the west

    I’m glad the guardian got the interview
    this lady talks sense, sense and sense

  • Coll Ciotach

    Why is the police not trusted – Mrs O’Loan is correct, when members of the PSNI walk down the street you ask yourself – was that person involved in collusion – did they take part in murder? Then you look at the arrest and conviction of protestors at Ardoyne and consider the escort given to men at Larne to protest, or is that intimidate? outside someone’s house, for instance.

  • My reading of what the politicians are saying is that they would much rather bury this stuff; that they want to live in the present. But the problem with living in the present is that if you don’t deal with the past then you don’t learn from it and you don’t prevent it from recurring.

    The past is most easily and best dealt with in most every case, with it being consigned to history and redundant memory, with everyone minded to remember it must never be repeated. That is the simple lesson easily learned. It does not need decades of fruitless investigations with all sides determined not to allow key evidence of actions and decisions taken in a more ignorant and crazed time to see the light of day because of the danger to national security and future stability that such information/intelligence would reveal.

    You don’t need anyone to tell you all, that you all screwed up big time for nothing worth the death and destruction it left in its wake. Accept that conflict and division and inequitable sharing of assets and resources is a criminal and fool recipe for mayhem and madness, and ensure that it never ever happens again, by ensuring that any who would propose such a nonsense suffer appropriate sanction or section.

    Move on, and what I want from politicians is that they present an administration for a carefree and inventive future scenario and to hell with the present which is plagued and indebted with the past.

    Let’s have some positive imaginative radical thinking from the plonkers on the hill, who are on a nice little earner with expenses for doing nothing more taxing than thinking* and endlessly talking, and for goodness sake get rid of all those who advise that you are constrained by Westminster and have to ask their permission to piss.

    * Sadly, probably are there faceless bureaucrats doing the thinking for them, and then advising the media puppets fronting the show of the script they have to learn and follow.
    Leadership Stormont Style ….. same as leadership Parliamentary Style, and both of them a sub-prime farce …….. Punch and Judy Politics.

    One does wonder what Intelligence is doing, whenever such shenanigans are so blatantly obvious? An impotent and leaderless paper tiger cowering in the shadows pretending to be something it isn’t and provide duff info to boot? Yeah, that sounds just about right, which is a scandal in this day and age of some much prime intelligence available for broadbandcasting and systems takeover and makeover.

    Which is a both a zeroday vulnerability to exploit/white hat probe and an opportunity for someone to fill with beta product/SMARTer ProgramMING? Hmmm ….. Now there’s a novelty.

  • Alias

    It’s very easy to repeat glib phrases such as “forget the past”, “move on”, “look to the future” etc in regard to activities of the gang-controlled sectarian murder campaign if you weren’t a victim of it via the loss of a loved one or the loss of a limb.

    Most people, however, weren’t victims of it. Frankly, the non-victims should just shut up and let the victims decide whether it is best to let the victimizers get away with it or to try to hold them to account in some way.

    I would surmise that most of them would want some form of justice for their loved one and for whatever they themselves have suffered. That is probably why they are not asked for their opinions.

    All of them have ‘moved on’ and ‘looked to future’ as best they could because that is part of the human condition. The ones that wouldn’t became suicide statistics or mental hospital patients.

  • Most people, however, weren’t victims of it. Frankly, the non-victims should just shut up and let the victims decide whether it is best to let the victimizers get away with it or to try to hold them to account in some way.

    I would surmise that most of them would want some form of justice for their loved one and for whatever they themselves have suffered. That is probably why they are not asked for their opinions. …. Alias 28 December 2011 at 6:10 am

    Quite so, Alias,and how very sad and true. However, …… there can be and will be no justice available because of the sensitive evidence which will not be forthcoming for obvious bloody reasons, so bite the bullet and move on. For decades already have y’all been pontificating and dancing around the subject which is history and has no part at all in the future of a civilised society/sophisticated administration. To consider that it does is to identify oneself as somewhat of a primitive and dinosaur and still part of the nations abiding problem rather than any element in its peaceful and progressive solutions.

    You were scammed and used as expendable pawns in others perverse and psychotic games of useless and enforced empire, a poorly programmed failed social experiment in civil disobedience as a weapon of mass destruction of the state. Or was it something you chose to endure yourselves?

    Move on, that old crying game is over and gone, choose any other one because this time you actually have some active and HyperRadioProActive IT control facilities and remote leverage to steer and correct direction, if you are smart enough to play your cards right, true and open/transparently, for that is what is freely available now to Great Game Players.


    Would it be too much to ask those calling for mechanisms to be established to”deal with the past” to explain clearly what the term “deal with the past” means?

  • Cynic2

    Coll Tiocach

    Obviously the Police have been recruiting the wrong kind of Catholics but do tell me, when in the polling booth ticking the box for SF do you ask yourself ” was that person involved in collusion ” as it seems a lot of them were?

  • Barnshee

    “what the term “deal with the past” means?”

    ALL evidence on all parties published to establish the facts/truth

    Name and Shame the guilty of whatever faction/persuasion If they have assets make them pay compensation

  • Would it be too much to ask those calling for mechanisms to be established to”deal with the past” to explain clearly what the term “deal with the past” means? …. NOT NOW JOHN 28 December 2011 at 11:21 am

    NOT NOW JOHN, It is just another one of those wishy washy non productive job creation schemes for quangos and the judiciary to shuffle papers and call meetings to discover that vital parts of the puzzle are always to be missing, with the cost of the pantomime and all of its expenses to be billed to the public purse to keep that gravy train moving along. Or is that just too cynical to be a true reflection of what will happen, even though it is an accurate mirror of all the other similar shows laid on over the years, with the £400 million Saville Inquiry being a real super star in that field ……. Saville Inquiry

  • Zig70

    The legal system deals with victims daily and society has deemed that an eye for an eye is not the best way no matter what we would like. We have a political system which seems based on everything being the fault of the other side and even if the truth is out then we’ll believe our own convictions. Is this a call to promote the industry of the caller? I’m not a victim of anything except mild assault and burglary and I can’t begin to empathise with the pain of others but I do think that the ones that are hurting are maybe not the best to decide what we should do. So I’m advocating more pain to the hurt and we focus on not repeating it by tackling where division still exists.

  • Plenty of countries emerging from conflict have come up with localised and clever processes to “deal with the past”. The South African one which we heard most about here in NI was a classic case of acknowledging the need for the stories to be told. The vast majority of evidence was brought to the process by victims. They rarely found out the whole truth (part of the system and much less than in our case, was still in place) but they needed to tell their story. The cleverness was in Tutu’s recognition of the necessity for something to happen to prevent exactly what is happening here from stymying progress – i.e. the drip feed of revelation, inquiry, revisionism. Who knows what our best solution is but I know this – no one has asked me what my thoughts are – and as an ordinary punter who lives here I suppose I’d like to be asked.

    If you map it out in scenarios of what is likely to happen then finding some way of drawing the lessons and the venom from the past is essential. Much as I am all for looking to the future – you can’t force it to happen and Northern Ireland is clearly not ready for it. NI is being dragged into the future by attrition and the slow necrosis of institutions who become ever more conservative in their attempts to stop their decline – church, OO, education system, (msm?). The biggest tragedy is that there is no narrative or vision to replace their role so people are disengaged, cynical, or getting on with life putting on a brave face. It’s damning.

    I thing the CSI strategy consultations demonstrated that tension that is out there – a real call for someone to demonstrate leadership to allow something to happen, almost a permission to be released from the crappy past and a kick in the arse to move on and build a progressive society, but it is not forthcoming.

    We all know what we need to hear from our politicians and business leaders to signal that willingness to progress but the trust is just not there. Therefore a process of “trust-building” is required and that has to start with some acceptance of what happened and how it affected the other side, whether we judge it to have been right or wrong. People need validation in their beliefs and values before being able to let them go – like a classic “yes AND ….” instead of the “yes BUT ..” that is the standard reaction today.

    What will bring that about? Who knows but why not give a cross section of all those impacted and involved the chance to agree what it looks like – including the security services, the courts, the victims, the institutions, the media, the perpetrators (all hues) and the ordinary folk of the place as well as some who looked on at our clumsy process from other places that have gone through the same. that agreement on how to deal with the past can be achieved but not until all the parties are in the same room talking to each other face to face.

    Who is the honest broker who can make that conversation happen? I can think of one or two, can you?

  • Alias

    Michael, there has never been a case anywhere in the world where a so-called truth/justice/reconcilliation process occured while the old regime remained in power.

    Rather obviously, the old regime would rather not expose its misdeeds to public scrutiny or act to hold itself to account. On the contrary, it acts to conceal its misdeeds from public scrutiny and to ensure that it never answers for them.

    This is why we hear the regime’s mantras “forget the past”, “move on”, “look to the future” repeated by others who should know better – and if they did know better, would not unwittingly serve the regime.

    The same folks who called the shots (pardon the unintentional pun) back then, call them now. In addition to the intelligence sevices, the leaders of the murder gangs have been elevated to positions of localised power within the regime – as have the old rabblerousers. As modest as these positions are, they only hold them on the pretence that they are now peacemakers rather than troublemakers. That pretence would unravel if exposed to scrutiny, and so the bargain would unravel with it.

    Certainly, in terms of being a progressive society, as society that says a great big ‘f*ck you’ to the victims and rewards the victimisers is surely an antonym for the definition of civilised. It is a society that is profoundly disturbed and dysfunctional.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Cynic – Hardly as I do not vote for SF – SDLP myself for my sins

  • Coll Ciotach

    That is if I could be bothered and if the likes of the previous leader has not annoyed me

  • Re Alias 28 December 2011 at 11:50 pm ….. Quite so, Alias, therefore any call for any sort of further revelations/witch hunt/search for peace and truth about the past, is counter-productive and subversive, for it just isn’t going to happen?

    Yes, how very true, and therefore would all this time and effort wasting be and certainly more of a clarion call and rallying cry worthy of the intellectually challenged and retarded, although they have much more important things to concentrate on, and so would the perps be imposter clones of those they are perceived of as being and conceived to represent?

    Yes, that is probably also perfectly true, and is as a direct result of there being no valid future leadership displayed by any of those being paid and/or professing in the paid shadows to be able to provide it to Northern Ireland. Minnows swimming as sharks immediately springs to mind whenever Stormont is mentioned.

    Uncovering the past is NOT what is needed to be fed into the system to create a perfectly peaceful and harmonious present environment, understanding the virtual nature of future seeds and networks internetworking joint applications and reality streams is what easily delivers that with AI Command and Control of Computers and Communications and Creative CyberSpace.

    Fortunately, can/will those who do fully understand everything enough, provide the intelligent content to intelligence services to deliver all that is needed so that learning of the future even as IT presents it to you, will not be a burden you will have struggle to overcome with a default limited intelligence capacity/overtaxed primitive and/or damaged memory circuits.

    And who do you think dares runs that spooky program and cares to share with you win win solutioning? A public or private concern? Or would it be a pirate renegade operation which in quantum fields of communication and intelligence and IntelAIgent control, would be at least all four disciplines together as one to be yet another, a five with even more possibilities being probable and certain given the creative nature of …….. well, let us just call them Great Game Players rather than anything else which jumps to fantastic and/or false conclusions which would have one delving into realms which you are not prepared for, and which are designed to overwhelm without fear or favour, such is the immaculate protection afforded sublimely.

  • 241934 john brennan

    Nuala O’Loan’s proposals for dealing with the “political injustices” of the past are the most sensible yet. Yet they will not work! Why? Because in talks leading to peace agreements, two heads of governments, Tony and Bertie, with the support of Bill (Clinton) agreed that paramilitary sharks would be rewarded, rather than held to account, for past crimes.

    One example of this was the Northern Bank robbery. Bertie said it was the IRA wot done it – and it had prior sanction from the Provo IRA Army Council. Therefore Gerry would have known about it. Therefore Gerry was acting in ‘bad faith’ when smoking the peace pipe with Bertie. So Bertie went into a huff and didn’t talk to Gerry for a couple of weeks – but that was the end of the matter and normal relations were resumed.

    So with all the nods, winks and secret (to the public) deals, no paramilitary ‘shark’ is ever going to be held to account for Enniskillen, Teebane, Jean McConville, or any other utterly despicable atrocity – unless the British and Irish governments both first agree to come clean and tell the truth –even agreeing a dispensation to the 30-year rule would be step in the right direction, or agreeing that MI5 be put in the witness box etc? But it’s never going to happen?

    In the meantime much time, effort and resources will be expended without effect on Victims Commissions, Truth Commissions, Historic Enquires, Ombudsmen, Boston College type records etc – all of little, or no value, while pursuit of the Sharks remains embargoed and off-limits.

  • andnowwhat

    Edwina Currie suggested that we should follow what Germany did after the collapse of the east and throw open the books. Astonished as I am, I agree withe her.

    The only issue is top discover if victims need/want revenge, justice or the truth

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Most of the information about what happened is already out there. There are many unsolved murders but the biggest need is to inform ourselves better about the big patterns of the conflict. And much of the data is there.

    If all we do is focus on a succession of high profile incidents, we misunderstand the Troubles. So I think the greatest need is for the history of the Troubles – the big picture as well as the Bloody Fridays and Hunger Strikes – to be disseminated properly, in schools and in the media. In particular, the imbalance in the carrying out of the violence is not widely enough understood.

    The biggest dark area we all need answers on is of course the machinations of the Republican terror leadership, who conceived, planned and carried out the Armed Struggle, which accounted for most of what we call The Troubles. Other parties need to come clean too, but obviously the Republican Movement is the big one. Who decided what? What went into the fateful January 1970 decision to sanction an armed campaign against the rest of society by this extremist, if well-established, faction? How many people did they plan to kill? What were the exact relationships between their political and terror operations? What did Adams and McGuinness know about ongoing terror plans during the 90s ‘peace’ negotiations? And so on.

    But I don’t think they will ever agree to disclosure: it would be politically suicidal for them. So we have to make do with what best information we can get. And actually we have a good idea of a lot of the answers to the big questions already. We know the leadership of Republicanism deliberately set about a terrorist campaign and knowledge and active involvement in it goes right to the top. (Contrast with mistaken killings the security forces were responsible for, like the Bloody Sunday shootings which were comprehensively proven to not be part of any deliberate policy from on high).

    Perhaps we should focus more on the overall history and less on the selected individual incidents that people often use, rather disingenuously, to blot out the bigger picture.

    Sorry, broken record I know …