Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland still needs a solution to the past

By Brian Rowan

The past is not just about national security and disclosure.

For weeks there has been a battle inside the Stormont talks; a political fight over draft legislation aimed at shaping the new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) and Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR).

The idea of the process is to release information, begin to answer the questions of the past, but rather this draft legislation is seen as some type of straitjacket.

So, six years after the Eames/Bradley report of the Consultative Group on the Past, we still wait for some agreed way forward.

That waiting includes those injured during the conflict years; men and women waiting for a decision on a victims' pension - an issue that is stuck in the stand-off.

Some of the injured were at Stormont last week for an update on progress. They heard nothing to suggest a breakthrough.

But even if agreement is reached on draft legislation many questions will remain unanswered.

Does anyone know what cooperation in any process will be?

Will the IRA be part of it - the loyalists?

What about MI5, the military, the Special Branch, the governments?

Has there been any consultation across this wide frame to establish what is possible?

The answer is no.

Loyalists have not been part of these talks, left on the outside and, yet, they will have a major part to play in any process.

So, addressing the past is not just about draft legislation and national security and disclosure from any one side.

It is about all the sides.

A paper agreement might begin to put down the bricks of some past structures - the beginnings of the HIU and ICIR.

But can you have investigation as well as information recovery? Do the two work beside each other?

These are just some of the questions - questions that tell us that even in the event of agreement on legislation, however long that takes, the past will be a long way from being answered.

There is too much to hide, not just by one side but across the many sides.

The real discussions on the past have yet to begin.

  • Brian Rowan is a security journalist and commentator

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