Denis Bradley has been spelling out a basic home truth about dealing with the past in discussion on BBC NI’s The View with his partner in the still definitive Eames Bradley report. “Tough love” for victims is overdue. Writing in the Irish News, he has also made some startling assertions.
That families should be given truth pertains to knowing what and why a death or injury happened during the four decades of the troubles. But there is something out and beyond that, a truth based on honesty and sensitivity and decency. A truth that stops playing with people’s hopes and dreams. A truth that faces people with the probable rather than the hoped for or the desired. In therapy it is called tough love. That time may well be upon us.
Politically, it is looking less and less likely that either justice or truth about the past is going to be delivered.
How many victims have no idea of the truth? In each case, the main clue lies in their identity as random, economic or sectarian targets, members of paramilitary groups or security forces and their families. How many are seeking direct acknowledgment of grievous hurt and wrong doing? Quite apart from this, should not all be compensated on the basis of need alone?
Bradley makes a more startling point in view of the endless mantra of “no amnesty” from secretaries of state.
The signs are that the British government is going to respond to the demands of their own soldiers and will introduce a statute of limitation. If that be true it means they will pass a law that sets down the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be started. Crudely, if it happened a few years back, it can’t be brought to court. All our troubles events happened a few years back, so no soldiers in the dock.
What Bradley will have noticed is that behind the last secretary of state’s partisan support for an amnesty for security forces alone – which could only increase the divide between unionists and nationalists and undermine his own position – lies the largely unnoticed report by the Commons Defence Select Committee published just before the last Westminster election. They strongly supported the patriotic amnesty idea and then thought again – maybe we’d better include everyone.
The weakness of such an act is that it would be contested in a very senior court of law and would most probably be thrown out on the grounds that it is selective and unfair. So, the government will take away the unfairness by widening the law to include everyone who could or might be charged with troubles-related offences. All the protagonists will be included within the statute of limitation. It is an amnesty by another name.
Amnesties are no longer legal in international law. That will not deter the government greatly because the mood in the country and most particularly in the Conservative Party is to take all law making back into Westminster.
But they have been showing only extreme reluctance to take on full direct rule. Bradley also makes the remarkable claim.
The other thing the government knows is that the political parties here will jump up and down and cry foul while quietly breathing a sigh of relief.
It would take many trips down the Damascus Road to bring any such sentiment to the surface. it seems impossible during any likely timeframe for the current talks. And yet drawing a line in some form has long been an orthodoxy among those many involved in the criminal justice system.. It’s about time they began to apply more pressure on the British government to make it happen.
Truthfulness has not been a shining shield among some of our political parties here in confronting their own role in our twisted past and even less truthful in their connections with the diverse victims of the past.
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