Victims’ groups have called for an international independent truth commission to deal with the legacy of the last 30 years of war in the North of Ireland.
Organisations representing more than 1,000 victims of the conflict said a truth commission would provide resolution for the greatest number affected.
More than 30 victims travelled to the Belfast Assembly this week to outline their plans. Those present were Relatives for Justice, Pat Finucane Centre, Justice for the Forgotten, An Fhirinne, Firinne and the Ardoyne Commemoration Project.
The groups said: “British and Irish state policies and actions and those of non-state actors and the role of civil society in both jurisdictions should be examined.” The recommended truth commission would not be based on the model used in South Africa, where public hearings were used to investigate crimes during apartheid.
Paul O’Connor from the Pat Finucane Centre said: “We are not calling for a South African-style confrontational truth and reconciliation commission with public hearings with alleged perpetrators getting up in rooms in front of hundreds of victims and saying I did x, y and z.
“We are calling for a process that is tailor-made to our circumstances, we are talking about largely private hearings ... about an organisation that can mediate that process of truth recovery from those who have it to those who need it and deserve it: the families who have lost loved ones right across the board.”
The group said: “The criminal justice system has frustrated rather than facilitated the truth,” adding that the system offered “no realistic prospect of truth recovery of bereaved families.” The groups agreed the sole focus should be on truth recovery.
Margaret Urwin from Dublin-based Justice for the Forgotten said: “The focus of such a commission should be on truth and acknowledgment rather than prosecutions.”
Mr O’Connor said he would not advocate a full amnesty but suggested that the use of immunity certificates, which would allow evidence given in a truth commission to be immune from criminal proceedings, might encourage people to co-operate.
The groups said: “All combatant groups, British, republican and loyalist should co-operate in good faith and have a moral duty to do so.”
An international dimension was backed by all the groups. Mr O’Connor cited the successful intervention of US senator George Mitchell during the Belfast Agreement talks and the work of John de Chastelain on arms decommissioning.
A panel unilaterally appointed by the British government on the matter, the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Past, has continued to encounter hostility at public meetings, most recently in Derry, where it controversially held its meeting in the Protestant Waterside area of the overwhelming nationalist city.
The panel insisted it is “fully independent” and not guided by “any sectional interest, political philosophy or government department”.
TRUTH FROM BROWN?
Meanwhile, British prime minister Gordon Brown last week hinted that his government might not accept a possible recommendation by the Eames-Bradley panel to recognise the conflict in the North as a war.
Speaking in the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions, Nigel Dodds of the DUP implied a British acceptance of the conflict as a war would “validate” the IRA.
Mr Brown agreed with calls from Dodds at the Westminster parliament in London to rule out any attempt to “validate or vindicate terrorists”.
Mr Brown said it was “important” to move forward with reconciliation and said everyone wanted to be “safe, secure, peaceful and prosperous” in the North of Ireland.