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Consultative Group on the Past report is deeply flawed - Adams

25 March, 2009 - by Pat Sheehan

Sinn Féin President and west Belfast MP Gerry Adams last night gave the introductory remarks at a public debate in St. Mary’s University College on the recent report by the Consultative Group on the Past.   The meeting was jointly organised by Relatives for Justice, Coiste na n-Iarchimi, and the Falls Community Council. The Theme of the event was ’Dealing with the legacy of the conflict - What does the West Belfast community need?’ In his opening comments the west Belfast MP said that the recent “process unveiled by the Consultative Group on the Past is therefore deeply flawed and incapable of establishing the Independent International Truth Commission which we believe is necessary.”   In his remarks Mr. Adams said:   “Exactly a month ago I facilitated two very important meetings on the issue of truth and justice between victim families and the British Secretary of State Shaun Woodward. The first was with Hugh Jordan, the father of Pearse Jordan, who was shot dead by the RUC in November 1992, and whose family have been battling ever since for a proper inquest and full disclosure from the British state.   The second was between Mr. Woodward and the Ballymurphy Massacre Committee. These are the relatives of 11 people, ten men, including a local priest, and a mother of eight children, who were shot dead by the British Parachute Regiment in the Ballymurphy area in the 36 hours after the introduction of internment in August 1971. At both of these meetings the families gave graphic and moving accounts of the brutal killings of their loved ones and of the subsequent cover-up by the British state into the events surrounding their deaths. These families are a only few among many hundreds of others who also seek the truth about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of loved ones and friends and neighbours. They are not alone.   Campaigning groups like Relatives for Justice, Justice for the Forgotten, the Pat Finucane Centre, An Fhirinne, Firinne and the Ardoyne Commemoration Project are making similar demands.   Also across this island and in Britain there are other families involved in campaigns.   Some of these are victims of republican actions who are also seeking truth.   The issue of state killings and of collusion – which was an administrative practice and part of the British Government’s strategy – must also be dealt with.   The evidence of the British government’s inadequate and dishonest response to demands for truth has raised understandable concerns about its commitment to a viable and effective truth recovery process.   For example, the British government’s refusal to co-operate with the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; its refusal to hand over files in relation to the killing of Pat Finucane and others; and its willful stalling and obstruction of the Saville Inquiry, are all evidence of an unwillingness on the part of the British Government and its military and intelligence establishment to end the cover-ups and to take responsibility for their actions during the conflict.   Brushing it under the carpet, revising our history to exorcise the role of the British state in fomenting and prolonging conflict in our country, is in no one’s interest – especially the families.   Republicans have clearly acknowledged many times the hurt we inflicted during the conflict.   Sinn Féin is also very mindful of all of the difficulties involved in truth recovery, particularly for victims and their families.   But we believe that as society seeks to leave conflict behind and to move forward there is a requirement that all of us address the tragic human consequences of the past.   Sinn Féin supports all of the families in their efforts to achieve truth. The publication of the ’Consultative Group’ report on January 28th brought a renewed focus onto the issue of truth and truth recovery. Sinn Féin is currently engaged in a consultation on the detail of the report. However, sometime ago Sinn Féin made it clear that the establishment of an independent and international commission established by a reputable international body like the UN is necessary to properly address this issue. We don't believe the recommendations of this report are sufficient to establish such a body.   The appointment by the British Government of a Legacy Commission as proposed by this report falls very short of these fundamental criteria.   In Sinn Féin’s view a proper and transparent truth process is essential and in 2003 we published a discussion document which identified fundamental principles which we believe are essential to such a process of truth recovery. These are: All processes should be victim-centred and deal with victims on an all-Ireland basis and indeed with victims outside Ireland; Full co-operation by all relevant parties is essential to the success of any commission;     There should be no hierarchy of victims;     All processes should be politically neutral;     Any future panel should be international and independent;     One of the purposes of any future panel/commission should be to examine the ‘causes, nature and extent’ of the conflict;     An objective of any process should be healing – both for direct victims and for society in general;     A common aim should be to enable society to build the peace; Reconciliation should be the core aim of any truth process; and respect and generosity should inform the parties seeking to reach agreement. So, those of us charged with political responsibility must agree and deliver a process that is meaningful and substantive. There is an onus on all political leaders to promote this. This includes the Irish Government, which has a constitutional, legal and moral responsibility to actively promote this course of action. That means thinking beyond any sectarian, sectional, party political or self-interest. Such a process must deliver truth to bereaved families as a result of independent investigation, as well as analyse the policies and practices that sustained and fuelled the conflict. Given that the British government was the major protagonist in the conflict how can bereaved families or those seeking truth and justice, feel anything other than deep concern at the process that is being proposed by the Eames Bradley Group? The British Government cannot be the objective facilitator of any truth recovery process. It also cannot with any honesty write the remit of any group tasked with that role.   Any truth process which has the finger prints of the securocrats in Whitehall anywhere near it simply will not work. History shows that their contribution has been one of cover-up and concealment.   Objectors to a truth process disingenuously argue that the high cost of inquiries into the past is a reason for doing nothing. It is not inquiries into the past which cause the expense – it is the British government policy of concealment and cover-up, most clearly demonstrated in the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, which has seen that Inquiry last and cost as much as it has. Over recent time Sinn Féin met many of the victims groups. We are convinced that the establishment of an Independent International Truth Commission is the best way of taking this issue forward. The process unveiled by the Consultative Group on the past is therefore deeply flawed and incapable of establishing the Independent International Truth Commission which we believe is necessary. Of course, this does not mean that we give up. The Eames Bradley proposals need to be thoroughly discussed by bereaved families, as well as by society generally. Having spoken to many families over the years I know that they realise that achieving truth is not going to be easy. There are vested groups who do not want the truth and who will seek to thwart the creation of a meaningful truth recovery process. We must not let them. We must persevere. Sinn Fein supports the bereaved families and that support will remain steadfast in the difficult time ahead. Looking after victims and victims’ families and survivors is a significant and important part of this.

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