Police Ombudsman calls for proper debate on objectives in dealing with the past
Dr Michael Maguire said the issue was becoming more polarised and warned of the impact of the suspension of power-sharing.
Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman has warned that more divisions could be created unless a proper debate is held on satisfying the needs of victims of the conflict.
Dr Michael Maguire said competing narratives of the past were more polarised than ever before, while the political impasse at Stormont made it likely the problem would worsen.
The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) is consulting on establishing bodies to address the toxic legacy, including a criminal investigations unit, an oral history archive and an independent commission on information retrieval.
“Need to ask what we are trying to achieve by dealing with the past. Needs of victims, families and future generations will not be served if we fail to have some sense of where we want to go.” Michael Maguire @FeileBelfast— Police Ombudsman NI (@PONIPressOffice) August 7, 2018
Dr Maguire said: “There is little debate about what we are trying to achieve beyond platitudes to answer the needs of victims and families.
“In my view, the needs of victims and families, and indeed future generations, will not be served if we fail to have some sense of where we want to go in dealing with the problems of the past.
“Will we end up creating more divisions? Our experience is not positive.”
Dr Maguire attended an event at the West Belfast Festival on Tuesday.
He has repeatedly warned about the impact of investigating hundreds of past incidents on his independent office’s limited resources.
He has completed some investigations but said that, at times, family members of those who died did not believe his conclusions if they did not fit long-held, inter-generational beliefs about what happened.
“I would suggest that the competing narratives of the past in Northern Ireland are more polarised now than ever before.
“Some would argue that controlling the narrative of the past is the new battleground.”
He had noticed a “cherry-picking” approach – the banking of conclusions which are liked and a challenge to the conclusions which are disagreed with.
“Again this illustrates the contested space that is our history.”
“As we move forward and what happened here is subject to more substantive investigation and research and the past is really considered, there will be uncomfortable truths for everyone.” Michael Maguire @FeileBelfast— Police Ombudsman NI (@PONIPressOffice) August 7, 2018
Criminal justice organisations in Northern Ireland have struggled under the weight of a mountain of investigations into the past.
That has also affected the police, inquests and judicial review courts.
Dr Maguire warned against doing nothing, or simply the minimum.
“Need to move beyond entrenched positions. There is no collusion lie, it did exist and people died as a result... likewise any position which takes the view collusion was active policing policy, systematic and endemic is at odds with all the evidence I have seen.” Michael Maguire— Police Ombudsman NI (@PONIPressOffice) August 7, 2018
“I can’t help but think there is an element of wishful thinking here, as the problem will gradually resolve itself as those involved in the conflict die.
“This seems to me a particularly heartless solution as it leaves the majority of families who have been affected in Northern Ireland without answers and it continues to burden criminal justice organisations with a problem they cannot resolve without further funding.”
“As I enter my final year I am thinking about the future and whether we have the capacity to do things differently. The end result must be one of building a stable and shared society rather than undermining its foundations.” Michael Maguire @FeileBelfast— Police Ombudsman NI (@PONIPressOffice) August 7, 2018
He said that approach was impractical since issues within families are becoming intergenerational.
“Put simply, the problem will not go away but continue to fester and create difficulties.”