Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Sorry the hardest word when the missing ingredient is political will

Commission for Victims and Survivors says those responsible for Troubles killings should write letters of apology to their victims and families

O'Tooles Bar (The Heights), in the quiet Co Down village of Loughinisland where UVF gunmen burst in opened fire, during a World Cup match on June 18, 1994.
O'Tooles Bar (The Heights) in the Co. Down village of Loughinisland. Six men were shot dead by two UVF gunmen, while they were watching the 1994 World Cup on television.
Funeral of Walter Moore, who was shot while in a shop at the rear of Oldpark RUC base, Oldpark Road Belfast

This may well be Kathryn Stone's last roll of the dice – a final attempt by the Victims Commissioner to get something moving before she leaves her post in just a few weeks from now.

So, time is running out, not just for her, but for many victims and survivors seeking answers and acknowledgement.

These latest proposals cover familiar ground.

You will find their roots in the Eames/Bradley Report and in the document drawn up by Richard Haass and Meghan O'Sullivan. The thinking is within the frames of acknowledgement, truth, justice and reparations.

The latest move brings back into play the thorny and vexed issue of apology.

Up to this point, statements from the IRA and the loyalists, have been limited to 'non-combatants' and 'innocent victims'.

But what is now being proposed is something much more detailed and specific – and something that stretches out wider than those groups.

This is about governments, security and intelligence agencies as well as republicans and loyalists.

The commissioner wants the British and Irish governments to establish an Acknowledgement Unit – and wants official apologies issued to all victims and survivors "individually as required".

It is much easier said than done.

What about those actions that the many different sides will consider legitimate? How do you achieve an apology for those?

In this context, sorry really is the hardest word.

But over the past week with the Adams arrest we have watched the past seep into the present and threaten to destabilise both the policing and political processes.

Something needs to happen and sooner rather than later.

So, we read again proposals for Information or Truth Recovery, for one Investigations Unit, for an archive to bring together all the stories and information, for a victims and survivors pension and the challenge of writing a "composite narrative".

The missing ingredient in terms of addressing the past was named by former Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde when he talked about the absence of political will.

And as politicians dither and delay and dwell in the past, so the present is threatened.

Something has to happen.

There is a consistent theme in the many different proposals that have been made across the work of Eames-Bradley, Haass-O'Sullivan and now from the Victims Commissioner.

And what is obvious is this. That something is either done or this place will forever dwell in its conflict years.

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