Victims’ groups reject Hain consultation

A number of victim’s groups have today rejected outgoing Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain’s proposals for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles. The timing of the consultation announcement suggests that, like the Finucane decision, it was an attempt to get some of the dirty washing out of the way before the shiny new Brown era.

Open letter from Justice for the
Forgotten, the Pat Finucane Centre and Relatives for Justice

We are responding to the announcement by former
Northern Secretary Peter Hain MP of the establishment of a panel to consult
on the legacy of the conflict.

We have serious concerns about this NIO
initiative, the principal one being that it has been designed by one of the
parties to the conflict, the British Government. The process is based on the premise that
the British Government was/is a neutral broker, which is reinforced by Hain’s
reference to his own role as that of ‘an outsider’. This is clearly an attempt to distance
the British Government from any responsibility to join with others in a truth
recovery process and to portray the conflict as one between two warring
tribes. The British Government was
an active combatant and cannot be regarded as an outsider in terms of state
violence and collusion. There is a
real fear that this initiative may be intended to result in ‘death by
consultation’. Any attempt to ‘draw a line in the sand’ and deny families their
right to truth and acknowledgment will frustrate any hope of genuine
reconciliation between the people of these islands.

We are disturbed by the failure to discuss this
proposal in advance with victims’ and survivors’ groups, the context in which it
was announced, the proposed narrow focus of the consultation and the lack of
representation on the panel of precisely those sectors relevant to this
consultation. For such a
consultation to attract widespread support the following elements are an
essential requirement:

Ø International
involvement, which is absolutely necessary in terms of confidence building. However, this has been sidelined to that
of two ‘advisers’;

Ø Representatives of victims of the conflict should be consulted and a
number of them appointed to the panel;

Ø Any
process attempting to deal with the legacy of the conflict should be
transparent, inclusive and island wide. The current terms of reference are restricted to the North and ignore the
legacy of the conflict south of the border where more than 130 people lost their
lives and hundreds were injured. The proposal also excludes consultation in Britain on the needs of
victims and survivors there including the families of British soldiers.

In the lead up to this announcement a number of
individuals and organisations have been arguing forcefully that is too
expensive, or too dangerous, or impossible to deal with the past. The less than subtle message that has
been given is that those who have lost loved ones should dry their proverbial
eyes and ‘move on’. British
Government ministers and former civil servants complain incessantly of the cost
of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry but fail to mention that it was the constant legal
interventions of the MoD that caused such costs to soar. The Barron Inquiries into the Dublin,
Monaghan and Dundalk bombings were a model in terms of cost effectiveness, yet
the British authorities treated this Commission with utter


Others have joined the debate with relentless
attacks on any form of re-investigation or inquiry. The Police Federation and Retired
Police Officers’ Association have attacked the Office of the Police Ombudsman
while others have questioned the personal integrity of the Police Ombudsman. It
would appear that the Operation Ballast report got too close to the truth. Surely one of the more bizarre
developments is the spectacle of those who spent their professional lives as
police officers asking questions of others now refusing to answer questions
about their own activities when asked to co-operate by the Ombudsman!

The Public Prosecution Service, with impeccable
timing, has done its bit to convince us that the past is a place where we should
not, shall not and dare not go.


It is the considered view of our organisations
that an independent, international truth commission is the mechanism of truth
recovery that would benefit the greatest number of families who have been
bereaved through the conflict.


Maya Angelou reminds us that, ‘History, despite
its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be
lived again.’ It is time that the
British Government showed the necessary courage.




Margaret Urwin, Justice for the

Paul O’Connor, Pat Finucane Centre  

Mark Thompson, Relatives for

(JFTF, PFC and RFJ work on behalf of more than 800
families bereaved through the conflict.)



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