Belfast Telegraph

Police can't solve the past alone

By Brian Rowan

Chief Constable George Hamilton chose yesterday to speak about the political talks on the past.

In the space of a few hours, he used a speech to call for "brave conversations" and then travelled to the Policing Board to announce a new Legacy Investigations Branch.

It will take over the work of the Historical Enquiries Team in the new year, which will include the Bloody Sunday investigation and the review of the controversial on-the-runs cases.

Mr Hamilton expects around 70 staff will be part of the new team, but because of budget squeezes it will take time to reach that number. Financial pressures will also slow the pace of investigations into the past.

The speech the Chief Constable made was at a conference just a stone's throw from the Stormont negotiations.

"To talk about the future, our society also has to be ready to talk about the past," he said.

Mr Hamilton was building on a speech he gave to the British-Irish Association in September, when he urged people to go beyond their comfort zones.

The talks at Stormont are the latest attempt to achieve an agreed process to address the past.

Mr Hamilton said delay was "a chronic feature" of the current piecemeal approach.

"The absence of a holistic approach to dealing with our past has left a landscape of legal processes to address the pain caused by Northern Ireland's troubled history," he said.

"Agreeing a more societal approach will require brave conversations, such as those our politicians are involved in at present."

This was his talking outside the talks. And, inside the Stormont negotiations, yesterday's focus was also on the past. Much of what is being discussed stems from the Eames/Bradley and Haass/O'Sullivan processes, an historical investigations unit, a commission for information recovery, an historical archive and a package to address victims' needs.

Earlier this week the Chief Constable stressed the importance of getting agreement. "It's well beyond policing," he tweeted. "Needs resolved. Hopefully, current talks will deliver some progress.

"Policing happy to do our bit."

Brian Rowan is a security correspondent and commentator

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