By Niall McCracken
POLITICIANS suffer from “amnesia” when it comes to victims of the Troubles outside Northern Ireland, a leading victims group has said.
Margaret Urwin from Justice for the Forgotten says the “great anomaly” of the recent Haass proposals is that dealing with the past is confined to the boundary of Northern Ireland, and risks overlooking victims killed elsewhere, including in Britain and the Irish Republic.
Meanwhile the primary authors of a significant report on dealing with the past from five years ago have stressed the importance of including the Irish Government in any future plans.
Denis Bradley and Lord Robin Eames co-chaired the British Government appointed ‘Consultative Group on the Past’.
Speaking to The Detail Mr Bradley said it was a “mistake” that the Irish Government were not involved in the process and Lord Eames said he believed the Irish Government had a responsibility to take “a long hard look at their legacy.”
The Haass proposals cover cases currently under examination inside Northern Ireland but risks excluding a review of deaths outside Northern Ireland, including in Britain and the Irish Republic.
In a statement to The Detail a spokesperson for the Irish Government confirmed that the bodies proposed in the Haass document would not have jurisdiction in the Irish State but said it encouraged the Northern Ireland parties to reach the necessary political agreement so it can “consider how best it can cooperate with any new institutions that may be established”.
The recent negotiations, chaired by US diplomat Richard Haass, ended on New Year’s Eve without agreement.
The document proposed the establishment of an Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) to take on the remaining case load of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and the conflict-related cases before the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland (PONI).
However Margaret Urwin from Justice For the Forgotten (JFF) says this fails to take into account many cases in the Republic of Ireland, in other parts of the UK and internationally where deaths and injuries are linked to the Troubles.
Figures compiled by JFF outline that 120 people were killed in the Republic of Ireland during the Troubles.
Ms Urwin says there is a perception that victims of the same conflict, but who were killed outside the territory of Northern Ireland, have a lesser need than those killed within its boundaries
“It’s very clear that the Haass document is not looking at deaths that occurred in the Republic of Ireland or indeed other countries where many people were killed as a result of the conflict, so I think that anomaly has to be corrected if these proposals can be taken forward in the future.
“There now seems to be a general amnesia, in the media, in civil society and even in Government, that there are victims of the Troubles in the Republic of Ireland. While we readily accept that the great majority of victims are within the north, nevertheless it has to be recognised that victims here have continuing needs too.”
Justice for the Forgotten was formed in 1996 to represent and support bereaved families and survivors of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, they also represent families of other bomb attacks in the Republic during the 1970s, as well as several families whose relatives were killed in single incident attacks.
In October last year the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland accepted the Dublin and Monaghan families’ complaint regarding the RUC’s investigation into the loyalist bombing.
This means that the Dublin Monaghan bombing could be examined by Haass’s HIU if it was ever established.
However Ms Urwin says many questions remain how this would work in practice.
“While the Dublin and Monaghan bombings case has been accepted for investigation by the PONI, that is only one case. Even in saying that the Dublin and Monaghan case would be included in the remit of the proposed HIU, would the full story be available to HIU? They would be able to access the RUC files but what about the Garda files? They might have only part of the story.”
The Haass document focused on the issues of flags, parades and the past. It also suggested the formation of an Implementation and Reconciliation Group to help establish facts around alleged ethnic cleansing in border regions and the degree to which, if at all, Ireland provided a ‘safe haven’ to republican paramilitaries
However Ms Urwin believes that if the Irish Government’s role in the past is going to be included in such proposals, so too should the “pain and suffering” of the victims from the same jurisdiction.
“Some parties in Northern Ireland are, on the one hand, objecting to the Irish Government being involved in dealing with the past but, on the other hand, are demanding that they give information about IRA activity on the border during the Troubles.
“They cannot have it both ways by cherry-picking what they are interested in and omit other narratives.”“I THINK WE MADE A MISTAKE”
The Haass talks were an initiative set up by the Office of First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). However, in 2009, the British government-appointed Consultative Group on the Past dealt with many of the issues raised in the Haass document.
The report by the Consultative Group was largely dismissed because of a controversial £12,000 recognition payment for victims.
Five years later, Denis Bradley one of the primary authors of the group’s report says he regrets that the issue of the Irish Government’s role in dealing with the past wasn’t explored more at the time.
“I think we made a mistake in that we went through this process without the Irish Government; this was set up by the British Government only. Despite the fact that I pleaded with the Irish to stay involved.
“When the British Government was faced with the recommendations, there was no counter balance to those types of situation. As if the Irish weren’t up to their necks in the past, like the British are and the rest of us are here in Northern Ireland are."
Speaking to The Detail co-author of the Consultative Group’s report, Lord Robin Eames says there is a risk of history repeating itself.
“I don’t think it was realised at the time the [Consultative] group was set up that so many of the problems we would have to address were a cross border problem. The Haass talks equally so were set up to address three problems in Northern Ireland- parades, flags and the past. On the face of it there’s no distinct reference to the Republic of Ireland, I’m afraid that’s inevitable given the structure of both our work and the work of the Haass group."
During the Haass negotiations in December last year, the Irish Justice Minister, Alan Shatter, told the Irish parliament that while he did not want to get in the way of the Haass process, he said that the government would “look constructively at what comes out of that process with a view to seeing what steps we might take.”
Lord Eames believes there is an onus on the Irish Government to address the legacy of its own past.
“Inevitably the answer will have to lie within the Republic of Ireland and if I’m going to be a prophet I think the day will come when they are going to have to have a long hard look at their legacy and see it in terms of what happened to their people as a result of what was happening in Northern Ireland.
“If I put myself were the Irish Government are, they looked north to what was happening and saw the complications, the difficulties and the suffering. I must say had I been in their position I would have said ‘thank goodness that is not happening here’. When it did happen and when the troubles crossed the border with the Dublin Monaghan bombings and other issues, I think it was a genuine wake up process.
“But until you look at the legacy of what happened, you will have your future footsteps dogged and restricted and I think that applies to both parts of Ireland."
In a statement to The Detail a spokesperson for the Irish Government said:
“There may be intended implications in what the NI Parties set in place for Ireland which the Irish Government would have to consider very carefully in due course. In this regard, the Tánaiste has made clear the Government’s commitment to playing an active and constructive role in dealing with the past – in encouraging Agreement on a new architecture for dealing with the Past to be agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive parties.”
To read the Irish Government’s statement in full please click here.