What other dark secrets are hidden in our history?
To escape our past we mustknow the whole truth about vile deeds like the Claudy bombs, writes Brian Rowan
Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson gave the debate on Northern Ireland’s violent past a much-needed wake-up call this week.
And as the conversation on what to do or what not to do continues to go round in circles, you could hear the frustration in his commentary.
He chose the week of a report by his office on the Claudy bomb cover-up to try to move this debate along — to give it some focus. The past is not being dealt with.
Some people are getting some answers, and many others are being left in the dark — not knowing the why of what happened.
The Ombudsman has more than a hundred historical cases sitting on his desk — work he estimates will take fifty years to complete. And if this is left in his office and left with the Historical Enquiries Team, then the reality is that many people will never have their answers.
That suits those who have buried the secrets of war and hidden themselves from responsibility.
So it is clear what Al Hutchinson is trying to do. He is explaining what his office can and cannot do — saying out loud that he and his team cannot operate as a substitute Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
And he is telling those who have political responsibility that the past needs to be dealt with in some structured rather than piecemeal fashion. That means we need some straight answers.
What is happening with the Eames/Bradley report? What does Secretary of State Owen Paterson mean when he says: “Simply ‘drawing a line’ is not an option?” If that means the Government is prepared to do something, what is it?
And we need to know what answers the IRA, loyalist groups, security forces and governments are prepared to bring to some table of explanation. If they are not prepared to step forward, then there is no point having a Legacy Commission — or some half-truth process.
Kate Turner, director Healing Through Remembering project, agrees with Al Hutchinson on the need for a structured process to examine the past “rather than the current piecemeal approach?”
That process, she thinks, has to be one: “That addresses incidents, but also includes consideration of the context causes and consequences of those events; one which enables a more stable and peaceful future.”
So, there are discussions to be had on big issues – amnesty, justice and truth. And in the context of what happened here, is there such a thing as “noble cause collusion” — doing what many would consider the wrong thing but for the right reason. “Those larger debates have to happen,” Al Hutchinson argues, “but they cannot happen through my office nor the Historical Enquiries Team. I still believe that a framework is needed that deals with putting information into the public domain.”
On the Claudy bombs of July 31, 1972, there is still one missing piece of information — an admission of responsibility.
Mr Hutchinson said intelligence blamed the IRA, but it has never put its name to the day. And many others have tried to hide themselves from the truth of other similar days.
Each time there is a big investigation and report into one particular day, the findings shock us, as we are shocked about the alleged role of a priest in the Claudy bombings.
But there will be many other similarly shocking stories. We have only scratched the surface of the past, and if we dig deeper who knows what else will emerge? It is far too early to be shocked — because there is more and worse to come.
That is if this place ever has a process that is about truth and reconciliation.