Belfast Telegraph

Dealing with toxic legacy of our past

Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson says that anyone dealing with Northern Ireland's toxic legacy of the Troubles will end up contaminated. Cynics might argue that he is bound to say that given a damning report has just been issued into the performance of his office in examining some high-profile terrorist outrages. But there is some evidence to back up his claim. Wherever the blame mostly lies - some is directed at Mr Hutchinson's office and some at the police for withholding evidence - it is clear that any investigations into the past will carry severe difficulties with them. Many people who lived through the Troubles have their own version of that history and will condemn any version which runs contrary to that.

Mr Hutchinson is now to leave his post earlier than he had planned, but does that solve the problems which the report into his office's performance highlighted? The short answer would seem to be no. There are so many vested interests involved and so many versions of the past it is a Herculean task to find the truth. The Ombudsman would like to see a different approach to tackling the legacy of the past and his reasoning makes sense.

The ill-fated Eames-Bradley report into the legacy of the past which foundered on the issue of a compensation payment to relatives of all those killed - terrorist and innocent alike - was never thereafter given the full consideration that it should have, especially on the idea of a commission to examine the evidence of past atrocities. But there may be merit in now re-examining some of the Eames-Bradley proposals.

It is not proper that the hopes of those bereaved should be periodically raised and then dashed as some new controversy over findings on past events erupts. The Secretary of State has signposted a new approach with the government funding a review body to compile and examine public documents and release information from them. If our politicians are really serious about laying to rest the spectres of the past they should examine how we can move forward positively rather than sniping at each other from entirely predictable positions.

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