Belfast Telegraph

To get to the truth we must hear Government's stories

If Downing Street insists it is a facilitator of the truth process rather than a participant it will fail, says Brian Rowan

The Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, needs to do a bit more thinking about a process on the past before he starts talking to the local political parties.

On Monday, he described the need for "a local solution, agreed by local politicians [and] assisted, possibly, by us [the Government]".

But there is no point in designing another process, no point in another consultation leading to yet more proposals, if the positions of the key players are not properly and fully understood.

And so this conversation needs to go much wider than the political parties.

Republicans will want to know from the Secretary of State - and the Prime Minister - what the contribution of police, Army, intelligence services and governments past and present will be if any such process is created.

Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin has described it as the British "divulging their share of the truth". And that contribution will determine the republican contribution.

If the Government sees itself as a facilitator of a process, rather than a participant in it, then it is making a huge mistake. Owen Paterson's talks with the parties can only be a starting point and someone else will need to find the endpoint - that being the beginning of some coherent process for questions and answers. That is if all the key players will co-operate.

And maybe now is the time to think about an international facilitator and a safe and neutral space to tease out from all sides what is possible and what is not.

The project Healing Through Remembering is recognised as a place within which difficult conversations have been hosted in private. That could be the safe space away from politics.

And then you need to find an international figure of such standing that he or she demands the attention of all those needed to make this process possible.

This phase should be about determining realistic levels of co-operation and the mechanisms within which that co-operation will take place.

It is about agreeing the terms and conditions of participation across the board, governments - British and Irish - security, intelligence, republican, loyalist, political unionism, churches, media and relevant others.

It is not just about the 'terrorists', as some would like it to be. It's not just about Adams and McGuinness having to own up to their IRA membership and roles but about so much more that will disturb the simplistic narrative and notion of goodies and baddies.

The fallout from the Boston College oral history project has been a wake-up call; a reminder that as yet there is no amnesty, no safe story-telling process, no agreed mechanism for truth.

The IRA and loyalist wars are over, but police investigations continue. And now the challenge is to get to the next stage where we are dealing with the past and not wallowing in it.

Yes a process will need political stamps of approval, but it should not be designed by politicians and the architects probably need to come from outside the conflict zone.

If the process is created within a framework that still has the option of investigations leading to arrests and the possibility to jail, then it is not going to work.

We may not call it amnesty, but we need to find a word or description that makes participation realistic and possible.

Look at the scramble now by interviewees to recover their Boston College tapes. The lesson from this will be that every 'i' will be dotted and 't' crossed before anyone enters any similar process.

It may also have to be in private - as the processes for decommissioning and the recovery of the remains of the Disappeared were. That would mean answering at an organisational level, rather than as individuals.

What has to be decided is what will deliver maximum information and understanding. And much of this will be as painful as the war itself.

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