Outsourcing solutions may be the secret of dealing with more than the past

Well, perhaps amid the encircling gloom the political parties have seen some light at last. The details of the agreement on welfare reform are awaited but it looks as if any new money will come from Westminster mainly to deal with the past which is surely fair.

Adds: United Executive request for a total of £2.1 billion over 10 years. Quite a gap with David Cameron’s £1 billion extra borrowing.. but perhaps  smoke and mirrors will narrow it once the welfare deal surfaces.

Nothing from that congested agenda so far on Assembly reform. if Sinn Fein really has blinked first, let’s not gloat. Early reports suggest that a real effort is being made to bring new life into the Agreement institutions, maybe even a fresh start. Maybe too extravagant a claim? Let’s see.

The  BBC’s Stephen Walker has supplied a summary of the agreement on the Past. Experts on the detail will draw out differences, but at first blush this is Haas a year late if it’s confirmed. We wait to hear what broke the deadlock over parades, while agreement on the past had surprisingly enough seemed likely for some time.

Main reflections ..

Reformers will note that agreement has been reached by outsourcing most of the implementation to a battery of bodies in which politicians are in a minority. It’s not immediately clear to me whether this applies to the supervising Implementation Group but at least it will have  lay leadership rather like the Policing  Board.  The injection of a strong element of “civil society “ the great and good  who have kept Northern Ireland going through the Troubles and the “peace process,” may be dubbed elitist, but it’s also an acknowledgment that politics and society need  greater non- party involvement and that anything like a shared society rather than a carve up cannot be  achieved by the political system alone. This is a bold, even generous admission from the political class if I’m right. At long last and very late in the day victims have a better chance of closure.

It will be quite a challenge for such  elaborate bureaucratic  machinery to move quickly, not to mention  cheaply, but the setting of timetables is a promising start after decades of  delay. Apart from sticking to fairly tight timetables, the scale of funding will be important. It’s fair to suggest that this should come from mainly form the British government. The full extent of Whitehall’s cooperation remains to be revealed. It should at least match that of the local parties.

The Irish government should conduct a complementary preferably even an integrated  examination of the  past.

On the effectiveness of the new bodies, much will also depend on the degree of criminal justice involvement. The less it is, the more disclosure is possible. While all are set against formal amnesty  the time has come to act on  the unfeasibility of prosecutions. And the old question remains: can omerta be broken?

The timetables also imply that the opportunities for political stalling are limited. Much will also depend on whether a real breakthrough in attitudes accompanies the new adjudication body in parades. Without that , a body comprised of angels and saints chaired by St Peter would make little  difference.

Detail of  at least nine new public bodies

 A Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition Commission.

It would take 18 months to report and would consist of 15 members, with seven being appointed by the Executive parties

On the controversial issue of parading, a number of new bodies are proposed including the establishment of the Office for Parades and Related Protests. This would examine mainly non-contentious parades and protests and would have an administrative function.

The Public Events Adjudication Authority, would regulate parades and it would be established through legislation in the Assembly.

With relation to the past, a series of new bodies have been suggested. These ideas were first mooted during inter-party discussions in 2013 chaired by the former US diplomat Richard Haass.

An Oral History Archive which would provide an arena for people to share their experiences of the Troubles. The archive would be independent and free from political interference.

As part of the archive, a research project would be established to produce a timeline and analysis of the Troubles. It would report within 12 months.

Legislation is also planned to introduce a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) which would examine deaths relating to the Troubles.

It would take on outstanding work from the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and the legacy work of the Police Ombudsman.

This new body will have full policing powers, and the document states the “HIU should aim to complete its work within five years of its establishment”.  This suggests less than a comprehensive  trawl  through the whole of the HET’s record.   

The British government says it would “make disclosure to the chairperson”, but says measures may need to be taken that will not put individuals at risk or “damage national security”.

However, the document presented to the local parties states that “no individual who provides information to the body will be immune from prosecution for any crime committed should the required evidential test be satisfied by other means.

Another body that would examine the past is a new Independent Commission on Information Retrieval. Known as ICIR, it will be led by four members and would exist to help victims and survivors who want to seek and receive information about the death of their next of kin.

ICIR would not disclose information it receives to law enforcement or intelligence agencies.

 The body overseeing the whole process will be the Implementation and Reconciliation Group

Chaired by an outside eminence,   membership will consist of a member each of the 5 Executive parties and an unstated number of laity

 ” Anew engagement model could help deliver this goal”.

The paper presented to the executive parties also states that “it is important that civic voices are heard and civic views are considered in relation to key social, cultural and economic issues”.

The paper states that a “new engagement model could help deliver this goal”.

This could mean the establishment of a new Civic Forum by June 2015 .

The document also details that an Equality and Good Relations Commission would be established that could provide the secretariat to the civic advisory panel.

A new north-south body has also been proposed, which would bring together representatives from civic society.

This forum would have joint chairs appointed by the executive and the Irish government.

 

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  • Martyn

    The quality of the outcomes from these new bodies will depend totally on the quality of the people on them. How they are recruited and selected will define their credibility and the acceptance of their conclusions. Should the recruitment be solely in the hands of the Commissioner of Public Appointments?

  • Brian Walker

    Granted that in dealing with the past, the powers and quality
    of the head of the implementation group are important. Likewise the effectiveness of the head of information retrieval .

    It may be no easy task to decide what should be reserved for legal process and what should go for disclosure, over the Chinese wall.

    But I think the effectiveness of these bodies will depend more on how people interact with them.

    Whether there is an open minded search for truth on behalf of
    victims

    More controversially, whether the interests of victims is
    given priority over long shot searches for justice.

    Whether the nettle of immunity is grasped

    Whether people come forward to tell stories which could incriminate themselves or others

    Whether demands for justice appear one sided and politically
    motivated.

    The prospect of civil society taking on a greater role in shaping
    the stalled agendas for social integration, culture and north south relations
    is an exciting one. Not surprisingly the politicians have jealously guarded this territory as their preserve albeit with pretty indifferent results .

    With a new commission which merges equality and good community
    relations ,it will be intriguing to see how potential clashes between the two can be reconciled, such as the gay cake row.

  • Gopher

    The only agreement I see is to milk the system for more money and kick the can down the road until after the next assembly election. Then hold out our hands again

  • aber1991

    That just about sums it up.

  • notimetoshine

    In theory independent bodies to seal with these issues could be a boon however what is the political oversight going to be like? All very good having these commissions and offices, but if our local politicians interfere as they are apt to do what hope have we? Considering that our politicians haven’t been able to deal with these issues, their having oversight on this might be out of the frying pan and into the fire. Maybe the NIO should have overall responsibility.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I know what (and who) you are talking about. Local people are probably the worst people to appoint to these things. Even assuming that they are well meaning – and they usually are – they’ll come up with the same old plans they’ve always been coming up with, and people who see the final report will shrug their shoulders and say, well, that’s what they’d say anyway.

    They’re also predisposed – consciously or not – to avoid criticism of people or projects when this may harm their interests. Is an up and coming well meaning Alliancer, for example, really going to put out a report excoriating the Justice Minister for some particular decision ?

    Sometimes these things can work (for example the Patten report) but there has to be plenty of qualified and relatively unbiased input from outsiders, and there has to be a commitment to follow through on the findings. If the British are going to commit extra funding for such projects they have to have a way of ensuring the local parties have skin in the game.

  • tmitch57

    A very good suggestion.

  • Framer

    If the HIU doesn’t replace, that is include, inquests it won’t be worth having.
    Inquests are the preferred process for uncovering the past or rewriting history. Take your pick.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Flags and Parades should never have been in-sourced in the first place.