Door has been opened to shed light on past


By Jim Gibney

For the first time since the conflict in the north broke out in the mid-1960s and after decades of campaigning, a door has been opened to the past which potentially should allow the truth to be known for the relatives of those bereaved in the conflict.

As a result of the pre-Christmas agreement between the Irish and British governments and all the north’s executive parties there is now a real opportunity that the families of those who died will be told the truth about the circumstances surrounding the death of their loved one.

The agreement also commits the north’s executive to enhance its support for the services provided to the victims and survivors of the conflict to ensure they are receiving the highest standard of recognition and care they are entitled to.

And while progress has been made during the negotiations, republicans are angry that the British government continues to renege on its previous commitments to establish an inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane. But the Finucane family can be reassured that Sinn Fein will continue to support them in their demand for an inquiry.

Republicans believe that the agreement has opened a door and there is an onus on all the parties to the conflict to not only walk through the door but to fulfil their obligations to provide the maximum disclosure to those seeking it.

Republicans have made it clear on a number of occasions that they are willing to play their part in providing the truth on the basis that other participants to the conflict do likewise. This means that the armed forces and intelligence agencies of the British government, the Irish government’s agencies, the IRA and other armed republicans, the UVF and the UDA are all involved in the truth recovery process.

To assist and more importantly to deliver the maximum disclosure to those seeking it three new and interdependent bodies are to be set up under the agreement - two of these bodies may have international chairpersons. The bodies are an Historical Investigations Unit, an Independent Commission for Information Retrieval and an Implementation and Reconciliation Group.

Taken together, these new bodies will oversee, monitor and facilitate the recovery of the truth which has evaded for decades those relatives in search of it.

The breakthrough deal before Christmas has created a much-needed breathing space for all the parties and the two governments to address the issues, political and economic, which had created a crisis in the political process - a crisis which had placed in jeopardy the future of the north’s executive. As a result of the agreement the executive’s additional finances will help stabilise the powersharing institutions with a funding package of 2 billion pounds now available for a number of projects.

In particular, progress has been made in protecting the most vulnerable and delivering additional investment. This demonstrates the value of having all of the parties working together in the face of Tory cuts.

A welfare protection package has been agreed for the most vulnerable people in our society. This will ensure there is no reduction in benefits within the control of the assembly. These protections are unique to the north of Ireland and are in sharp contrast to the austerity-driven welfare system rolled out in Britain.

Those in the north who are dependent on welfare assistance will not experience any loss to their benefits due to Tory cuts. There is of course deep disappointment at the failure of the British government to honour its commitment to introduce an Irish language act and this agreement has again made specific mention of the importance of the Irish language and the need for it to have a parliamentary legal status, recognition and respect, and sets the future development of the language in terms of it being treated ‘consistent with the Council of Europe’s Charter on Regional and Minority languages’. Whichever government occupies Downing Street after May one of its immediate priorities should be the introduction of an Irish language act.

There is much more in the agreement than I have space to comment on.

But there is no doubt this is the best start to the political New Year I have seen for over a decade.

Delivery and momentum are now key.

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