The scheme for gathering information on the Troubles ignores the public interest

News is dribbling out about the proposed cumbersomely- named Independent Commission on Information Retrieval on the Past – despite the fact that the proposals for dealing with the Past have not yet been agreed. Even without a flood of confessions from paramilitaries, this body may yet prove to be the most important in a complicated set -up which includes an Oral history archive.

In the Newsletter Sam McBride and his headline writer splutter unnecessarily about Martin McGuinness’s role in making appointments to the Commission. Otherwise it’s a thorough report and is more informative than Theresa Villier’s written statement.

However there is a great flaw in the arrangements. The process seems directed solely at victims and their families and  ignores the wider public  interest.

The commission will be legally barred from even revealing the names of those who have contacted it with information about Troubles deaths.  And it will be a criminal offence to publish any information which reveals details of an investigation by the commission into a Troubles death.

If the Commission receives information about a death within its remit but no close family member has requested information about the death, the commission will store the information in case a family request is made later.

However, the commission will be barred from initiating contact with the family. But because the information will be destroyed after the five-year life of the commission, if the family was to decide to seek out information after that period, any documentation would have been destroyed.

Obviously victims and their families should have priority and names of the living unconvicted have to be withheld for a considerable time, until the parallel legal process that might be relevant to a particular account appears to be  exhausted. That no doubt would require  fresh decisions in due course. But the proposal to destroy the files after five years is an act of  vandalism and should be abandoned  in the interests of writing the fuller history  of the Troubles


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London