In a carefully-crafted public address yesterday, the new “Consultative Group on the Past” warned that, while the British role in the conflict should be acknowledged, victims should not expect to secure the justice they were seeking.
The British-appointed ‘truth’ panel also suggested a veil should be drawn over the murderous role of informers and British agents during the conflict in Ireland.
The group is due to produce a report later in the year but it made a public statement yesterday amid widespread nationalist concern at its role.
Republicans dismissed the address as an exercise in public relations by the British government.
While media attention focused on an uncontroversial statement that the British state engaged in illegal activity, there was anger among nationalists that groups representing the families of British state violence had been excluded from the event.
Sinn Féin said the snub added further to the “sense of unease within the broad nationalist community at the direction of this group” and refused to attend the event.
Co-chairman of the group, retired Church of Ireland primate Lord Eames, effectively played down the Britain’s major role in the conflict, suggesting only that the Crown forces “sometimes went beyond their own rules of engagement”.
“Elements of the state, on some occasions, acted outside the law and through handling of intelligence it could even be said innocent people were allowed to die. We cannot ignore that, in fact, the state sometimes acted illegally.”
But the vast majority of the British Crown forces did good work “and suffered appallingly and unjustly as a result”, Eames declared.
Co-chair Denis Bradley said the use of informers by the state was “almost inevitable” but that the release of further information about their activities would be harmful to the public.
“The scale of the use of informers throughout the conflict corroded the fabric of our communities and the constant pressure now exerted for information about informers to be revealed only serves to further undermine the well being of communities to a degree that could be poisonous.”
Mr Bradley declared that the judicial process was a “crude instrument” to use when dealing with such injustices.
“We must be honest with ourselves about the realities of what any court or inquiry can deliver.” There were other ways of seeking the truth that do not include judicial processes, he said, but did not suggest what these might be.