Time to embrace Haass on ‘the past’

NI Executive parties at the Haass Talks roundtable  © NI Executive. Photography by Aaron McCracken, Harrisons Photography. Standing on the shore at Newcastle during the recent tidal surges, I watched wave after wave crashing over the harbour wall. The wall, otherwise imposing on a clear day, seemed a puny human artifice as it was battered by the tide and overcome by the power of the stormy sea. Just so, with our past.

Despite the wishes of some – including those in high places – to keep the past at bay, the horrors of over three dark decades of human rights violations and abuses, keep crashing over us. Week in, week out.

Every other day’s news bulletin carries sad reminders of the Troubles, reminders not to squander the peace: Omagh, McGurk’s Bar, Shankill, Enniskillen, Ballymurphy, Bloody Sunday, the Miami Showband, La Mon…

Our flawed and fragmented processes for uncovering the past are a mess. Taken together, they let down victims and bereaved families. The failure of the State to properly investigate human rights violations and abuses from decades of violence is not just a kick in the teeth to victims, it is a knee in the gut to all here who want solid foundations on which to build a society at peace with itself. The failure of armed groups to come clean about the past is inexcusable.

When information is drip-fed, the broader truth about past violations and abuses remains hidden; those responsible are shielded. What we now need is a new approach, one that meets the State’s commitments under international law, the victims’ right to truth and justice and society’s need to address and then move on from its tempestuous past.

The parties gathered at the Haass and O’Sullivan round-table came tantalisingly close to delivering that prize. Their efforts must not be squandered; losing momentum now would betray victims. The Executive parties – and the UK and Irish governments – must urgently deliver the proposals on the past, through legislation, funding and full cooperation.

Those most affected by three dark decades of violence will not easily forgive those who let this moment pass. The walls of denial cannot forever hold back victims’ insistent call for truth and justice.

Read Amnesty International’s full response to the Draft Agreement from the Haass Talks on dealing with the past in Northern Ireland.