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'Troubles victims won't be served by a decade of inquiries which won't bring closure or justice'


Attorney General John Larkin

Attorney General John Larkin

Attorney General John Larkin

The political response to last week's proposals from Attorney General John Larkin on how we should deal with the past does not bode well for Northern Ireland.

Larkin outlined a legal framework that would allow our society to focus on care for victims rather than tear ourselves apart in endless debates about what did - or did not - happen in the 1970s and 80s.

Every political party attacked Larkin's proposals - except for NI21. Why did NI21 break with the establishment political parties on this? For three main reasons.

First, victims themselves will not be served by a decade or more of inquiries and investigations which will not bring closure or justice. Those who hold up the prospect of victims having their day in court are holding out false hope. To take only one example, there are no forensics from the vast stocks of decommissioned weapons.

And, as John Larkin pointed out, the legal process can be effective in terms of investigating past wrongs by the state, but is not so effective when addressing the crimes of paramilitaries.

In other words, an endless process of investigations and inquiries will not bring justice or closure - but more hurt and pain.

Second, a failure to act along the lines proposed by Larkin will have a devastating impact on community relations over the next decade.

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Another generation of citizens will come of age in a political system defined by and divided over events of the 70s and 80s. Hundreds of millions of pounds will be required to fund inquiries and investigations. The findings on events that happened over 40 years ago will bitterly divide 21st century Northern Ireland.

Third, do we really want our Executive, Assembly and politicians over the next decade to be consumed by debates and divisions about the past rather than having a focus on building Northern Ireland's future? In a way, it is easy for politicians to opt for bitter debates about the past.

The harder job is building economic opportunity, reforming public services, devising a common education system for all our children and young people, and addressing the social and economic challenges of today's Northern Ireland.

Every support should be given to victims, particularly through the work of mental health and social services. This is our responsibility as a society to those whose lives have been scarred by the loss and pain of the Troubles.

We do them - and those who lost their lives in the Troubles - no service if we decide to inflict bitter and senseless division on Northern Ireland for another generation. It's a shame the establishment political parties refuse to publicly recognise this.