Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Truth about our past may elude us

How to deal with the legacy of 30 years of violence, and well over 3,000 deaths, is a problem which has exercised many minds in Northern Ireland since the ceasefires of 1998.

The problem is that there is no consensus over what people want from any attempt to come to terms with the Troubles.

The reactions from the relatives of those killed, and from those injured, are almost as disparate as the number of incidents involved.

All are equally understandable and, on that basis, are equally valid. Some people want justice; they want to see whomever was responsible for the deaths of their beloved relatives — or for injuries caused to themselves — brought before the courts and sent to jail.

Others recognise that the chances of prosecutions being brought for historic crimes are very low, and simply want to find out from the perpetrators, or anyone else who can shed light on the event, why someone was killed or injured and by whom.

For others, the past is a private affair. They have come to terms with the fact that nothing can change what happened, and they don’t want old pains revived. They are the most likely people to want |to draw a line under the past, and look forward to a shared future.

Lord Eames and Dennis Bradley, who headed the Consultative Group on the Past ran into a firestorm of criticism for suggesting a £12,000 payment for the relatives of everyone killed in the Troubles. They were accused of giving parity of esteem to terrorists who had died, even by their own hand.

This was an unfortunate suggestion — now totally ruled out by the Government — which overshadowed other considered proposals for dealing with the legacy of the past.

A much-repeated suggestion is some sort of truth and reconciliation process. Many people, including Sinn Fein, have subscribed to the idea of such a process, but quite how it would be possible to persuade former terrorists — as well as agents of the State, or even double agents — to come clean about particular incidents is still unclear, and a |dubious possibility.

It would also raise the question of offering an amnesty to people who committed the crimes of murder or attempted murder.

While such a de facto amnesty may already exist, for the Government to make it a precondition of any truth and reconciliation process would be a step too far for very many people. It would also add to the pain of those who lost loved ones, and who harbour a faint hope that justice may one day be done. An amnesty would extinguish that hope forever.

The unpalatable truth is that we may never learn — except in the broadest terms — the full facts of why certain murderous events took place during the Troubles, and who carried them out.

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