Belfast Telegraph

Ugly truths that stop us building a better future

The furore over the Police Ombudsman's office masks a deeper failure to deal with the past, says Brian Rowan

With all the recent focus on the office of Police Ombudsman and the fallout over historical cases, there is still the question of the past and how we are hiding from its ugly truths.

The story is one of failure across the board - political failure and failure on the part of many others to build a process that will at least begin to answer some more of the questions.

We are all too good at singling out individuals for blame, while others skulk in the dark corners of that past and in the places where they have buried their secrets.

Does the IRA want a truth process? Do loyalists - the UVF, UDA and others? And what about the Special Branch and MI5?

Equally, you could ask the same question of the two governments, political parties, churches and the media.

If we had a process, the issues of the past would not be in one office, or being examined within one inquiry.

A process, properly designed, would give us a better chance of getting the right context; of getting some better understanding of what happened and why it should not happen again.

We have to think beyond good and bad. The past is not just about those who went to jail.

Indeed, there is an argument that there should be a brighter light on those who played a part in this 'war', but who never went to prison, and not just in the republican and loyalist communities.

Again, in the fallout from those recent reports on the Ombudsman's office, there has been the suggestion that we should re-visit the report of Eames/Bradley; look at it again and, in particular, at its proposal for a Legacy Commission.

There was a design flaw in that report: it made that recommendation without knowing who would participate and under what terms they would cooperate.

The republican demand for a United Nations-designed International Independent Truth Commission is not going to happen, either.

And some suggest that is why some people, including Gerry Adams, have asked for it; that it is another way of pushing away any examination of the past.

Before there is a process or a commission, there is a need for information and knowledge - more than is there at present.

The questions that need answered first are about participation and the extent of cooperation.

Those are questions for the IRA, loyalists, Special Branch and MI5, political parties, governments, churches, media and many others.

And someone who can speak into all of those areas - possibly the respected Healing Through Remembering project - needs to ask the questions and get the answers before any process is announced.

This needs to be designed from the ground up and a model presented to high politics and to government, including the terms and conditions.

It needs to explain what is ruled out as much as what is ruled in. It needs to explain what will work and what won't.

We know from the decommissioning process, and from the searches for The Disappeared, that these things work best when they are behind the curtain rather than on the stage.

And we also know from those processes that these things are not perfect; that they do not deliver everything you need and want.

They operated with interlocutors communicating between commissions and the different republican and loyalist organisations.

But any process on the past needs to reach much further, including into those worlds of security, intelligence and politics.

And in the absence of a process to deal with all of this, look at what you get. Look into that trial playing out in Belfast in which supergrass evidence is being used against more than a dozen men, including Mark Haddock, who as well as being a member of the UVF was a Special Branch agent.

We are not dealing with the past and, if we wait for government to come up with something that will work, we will wait for ever.

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