Belfast Telegraph

Teresa Watt's quiet dignity is an indictment of the way we still refuse to come to terms with past

Widow's 46-year wait for justice for her husband should shame us into action on legacy issues, says Alban Maginness

After leaving Coroner's Court last week, Teresa Watt, a small and slight lady, gently assisted by her family, spoke to the waiting reporters with great dignity,to say: "I am glad it is all sorted and his name is cleared. I still have his pictures in the house. You never forget."

The coroner had just ruled that her late husband, Barney Watt, was shot dead without justification by the British Army during rioting in Ardoyne in 1971. In addition, they had falsely claimed that Barney had been throwing an explosive device at them.

Mrs Watt had no bitter remarks, no harsh words, nor calls for revenge, just the satisfaction that the court had rehabilitated her late husband's character.

Hers was the quiet dignity and acceptance by an elderly lady made to suffer for 46 years the injustice of losing her young husband because of the Army in the ghastly violence of 1971.

Bad enough her husband being unlawfully killed, but also his good character being traduced in order to cover up his unlawful killing by the State.

Such gross injustice and outrageous calumny had been unaddressed for 46 years, but had now been publicly exposed by the legal process.

There are other, similar, cases that deserve equal attention and similar remedies. The Attorney General, John Larkin, was right to refer this case, as well as several other cases, for the Coroner's Court to reinvestigate.

By his references back to the courts, the Attorney General has given families the opportunity for circumstances surrounding the deaths of their loved ones to be forensically reinvestigated to find out the truth.

This is so important for families cruelly impacted by the Troubles.

This is but one part of a fully operational legacy process, which must be put in place so that we can deal with the past and, thereby, get on with the present.

Without such a comprehensive process, we are likely to remain stuck forever in the past.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan - hardly a political player - has called for the proper funding of such a process, so that the courts can deal with the outstanding 56 inquest cases that they have a legal duty to deal with in a timely and effective manner.

About £50m for these cases has already been earmarked, but endless political disputes are holding it up.

He wants that money released, so that the courts can fully address these outstanding cases.

For most of us, these cases will mean very little, but for the likes of the Watt family, they are of great personal importance.

The result of such cases will not be hellfire and brimstone, but the quiet and dignified acceptance of justice being done, as witnessed in the case of Barney Watt.

The legacy issue should not be seen as a stumbling block, rather a stepping stone to political agreement, as all bereaved families across the community who lost loved ones will benefit from this healing process.

This is the final elusive part of the political jigsaw puzzle that is our peace process.

But although the legacy process alone should bring closure through a greater understanding of the circumstances of the deaths of people during the Troubles, it will not be enough to bring about a true peace to families or the community.

What is required is forgiveness. Without forgiveness, we will never move forward and will always be trapped in a cycle of mutual revenge and mistrust.

Even Simon Wiesenthal, the courageous Nazi hunter who obtained justice for some of the victims of the Holocaust by detecting and exposing Nazi war criminals throughout the world, was conflicted by the problem of forgiveness and justice.

As a young Polish prisoner of the Nazis during the Second World War, he refused to grant forgiveness to a severely wounded, guilt-ridden SS officer who had confessed to him his inhuman crimes against Jewish civilians and begged his forgiveness precisely because he was Jewish.

Without saying a word, he left the medical room and let the young SS officer die alone without forgiveness from him.

For the rest of his life, Wiesenthal wondered whether he had done the right thing.

By contrast, we should remember the words of the devout Methodist Gordon Wilson, whose daughter, Marie, was murdered by the IRA in the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb atrocity.

"I have lost my daughter, but I bear no grudge," he said. "Bitter talk is not going to bring Marie back to life. I shall pray tonight and every night that God will forgive them."

For him, forgiveness was the key to reconciliation and peace in our country.

But for many people, like Wiesenthal, forgiveness is the hardest thing of all to do.

Belfast Telegraph


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