What's the future of NI's troubled past?

Image caption,
A man carries a copy of the long-awaited Saville report

Relatives of the Bloody Sunday victims may have finally achieved a sort of justice 38 years on, but with more than 3,000 deaths during Northern Ireland's Troubles, many people are still carrying around painful memories and deep resentment.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "deeply sorry" that British paratroopers had shot dead 13 civil rights marchers without justification on 30 January 1972.

However, he also sounded equally unequivocal in his pledge there would never again be such an open-ended and costly inquiry again as Lord Saville's tribunal, which cost £195m and took 12 years to complete.

With many unsolved murders and a lack of closure for many families, this leaves a big hole to fill.

South Africa dealt with crimes committed during the apartheid era by establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which examined events between 1960 and 1994.

A similar commission was recommended last year by Lord Eames and Denis Bradley, who looked at how Northern Ireland should deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

If implemented, the commission would take the place of the PSNI's Historical Enquiries Team and any ongoing investigations by the Police Ombudsman.

The body would cost about £170m - not much cheaper than the Bloody Sunday inquiry - and would require a minimum of five years to carry out its work.

Image caption,
Lord Eames and Denis Bradley recommended a legacy comission

A group of MPs who examined the proposals found Northern Ireland still has not reached any consensus on how to move on from the Troubles and concluded it was not clear whether such a Legacy Commission was needed.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee found that neither victims, nor members of paramilitary organisations, were willing to sign up to the idea of a truth and reconciliation process, and warned that Northern Ireland could become overburdened with organisations addressing the Troubles.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Shaun Woodward insists a comprehensive process to look at all the unresolved killings during the Troubles is necessary.

"I think there is a real opportunity for the government here, if they choose to take this, which is to look for a process of reconciliation, of truth recovery, for all families - it is not sectarian - across the board, which seeks the answers they want," he says.

"There are simply too many unsolved deaths, too many inquiries waiting, for us actually to think that the current way of proceeding is going to enable Northern Ireland to deal with its."

Mr Woodward says such a process needs to go beyond the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), which was set up in 2005 to re-examine 3,269 murders from the Troubles.


Inevitably this has been a costly process, and this has been a source of concern for chief constable Matt Baggott.

It was estimated that the specialist team would need six years to complete the task, but five years into the process, work has yet to begin on more than 1,300 cases.

Mr Baggott has said a line has to be drawn under its work within the next three years as he needs to focus police resources on the present and future.

One of those many people whose emotions remain raw is Conservative peer Lord Tebbit, whose wife was seriously injured by an IRA bomb.

"I hope that Mr Cameron's unwillingness to contemplate any more costly open-ended inquiries will not exclude a public inquiry into the Brighton murders at the Conservative Party Conference in 1984," he wrote on a blog for the Daily Telegraph.

"Just as the families of the victims at Londonderry had a right to know whether people in high places had plotted the killings, so the surviving victims and the families of the dead of Brighton deserve to know if the killer Magee acted on his own, or whether the murders were plotted by people in IRA/Sinn Fein - and, if so, who those plotters were.

"The victims of Brighton are no less important than those of Londonderry. They should not be treated as second-class victims."

Lord Tebbit's remarks echo a common unionist criticism of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry that there are no similar inquires into IRA atrocities during the Troubles.

BBC NI political editor Mark Devenport says he put the question of "asymmetric justice" to Bloody Sunday QC Michael Mansfield, who made the distinction that the killings there were carried out by agents of the state.

Our correspondent says the outcome of the inquiry raises the question of asymmetry not just between state and paramilitary victims but others who now have little hope of any inquiry being held.

The families of 11 people killed by the Army in Ballymurphy, west Belfast in 1971 - among them a mother-of-eight and a Catholic priest - have been seeking an inquiry but Mr Cameron's remarks appear to have ruled this out.

Public inquiries examining allegations of collusion by members of the security forces with paramilitaries are still ongoing.

In 2004, Canadian judge Peter Cory recommended public inquiries be held into allegations of collusion in the murders of Pat Finucane, fellow solicitor Rosemary Nelson, Catholic father-of-two Robert Hamill and LVF leader Billy Wright.

'Crucial importance'

While Mr Finucane's family has rejected the proposed inquiry, as of last July the cost of the other inquiries had reached almost £95m.

The inquiries have finished hearing evidence and the reports are expected to be published soon, but another tribunals recommended by Judge Cory to be held by the Irish government has not yet sat in public.

Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and his colleague Superintendent Bob Buchanan were murdered near Jonesborough in south Armagh in 1989, amid suspicions that a rogue Garda officer in the Republic may have tipped off the IRA about their movements.

It is reported that evidence will be heard in October in Dublin, with some sittings possibly held in Belfast.

While the families of the Bloody Sunday victims feel they have achieved closure, for others the next step is the implementation of the legacy commission, as recommended by Lord Eames and Denis Bradley.

Mike Ritchie of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, which has been charting the progress of all the ongoing inquiries, said the follow-up to the Saville Inquiry "is now of crucial importance".

"We urge caution against any approach which says there will be no more independent inquiries because we cannot be sure of facts which may emerge in the future," he said.

"The government must look at a comprehensive method to deal with outstanding issues from the past."

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.