Cool response to Truth Commission proposal
Cool response to Truth Commission proposal

The chairman of the North's Policing Board, Desmond Rea has proposed a truth commission be established to achieve a sense of closure for the war in Ireland.

Mr Rea, backed by Denis Bradley, his deputy, also suggested an amnesty for those involved in the conflict.

The suggestions has so far received a mixed and muted response.

Mr Rea said a new truth commission could help address the unsolved cases of 1,800 victims and prove more useful than a series of judicial inquiries.

Pressure is building for inquiries into several cases, including British state collusion, shoot-to-kill ambushes, approved killings by informers and the 1998 Omagh bomb.

Mr Rea called on the governments in Dublin and London to draw up a plan to establish a commission with the backing of the relatives of the dead and injured.

He said: "There are people on both sides who have lost lives. There are people who have been injured, and there is a deep sense of hurt. Therefore a commission is the proper way to take into account that hurt, but also to seek to find a way forward that is a more productive way forward than the road that we appear to be embarking."

And Mr Rea infuriated nationalists with a suggestion that action on the Cory Report on collusion, which has been supprssed for over four months, could be shelved until a decision is made on how to deal with the past.

The Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, appeared to distance himself from that suggestion. He said his government had "understandings and agreements" arising out of previous negotiations relating to the Cory Reports. He said those commitments were "separate" to the debate surrounding the need for a truth commission.

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly warned that nationalists would view Mr Rea's comments as a "British government tactic" aimed at stalling its promise to initiate the inquiries recommended by retired Canadian Judge Peter Cory.

"The British state is desperately trying to hide the truth," he said.

"Are the senior figures in the Policing Board now telling the Finucane family and others that they support continued stalling?

"The fact is that the RUC moved en masse into the PSNI.

"This means that at the heart of the current policing arrangements are those human rights abusers who organised and participated in a campaign of terror against the nationalist community."

Committee on the Administration of Justice spokesman Paul Mageean said it would be "unthinkable" for the British government to abandon inquiry commitments it had given at Weston Park and made to the families involved.

"The families involved in this process have campaigned for many years to achieve public inquiries," he said.

"That effort is likely to be undermined by the public comments of the chair and deputy chair of the Policing Board, which may well have the effect of letting the government off the Cory hook."

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was killed in the 1998 Omagh bombing, questioned the merit of a truth commission as a means of dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

"I know the people that I am involved with would gain very little from going into a room with the perpetrators and listening to their reasons for doing what they done," he said.

"When we walk out of that room I think we would have got very little out of it and the perpetrators will have got absolution for what they done."

Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice, which campaigns for victims of state violence, described Prof Rea's proposals as "ill-conceived".

He suggested that the proposals may fail to tackle adequately the issue of security force wrongdoing.

"Such a process is doomed to failure and many relatives affected by the actions of the state will begin to question the motives behind the comments, feeling that they were prompted with the spotlight currently on the role of the state," Mr Thompson said. 

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