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All Along The Watchtower

Pauline Mellon sheds more light on a recent meeting in Derry about tackling the North's past which the Department of Justice tried to spike. Pauline Mellon blogs @ The Diary Of A Derry Mother.

"No reason to get excited, "
The thief – he kindly spoke,
"There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I we've been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour's getting late."

Kate Nash, Padraigin Drinan and Lyra McKee from the Belfast Telegraph.

Concerned citizens from various areas of the north have set about highlighting the need for clarity on proposals into dealing with the north's murky past. This comes with legislation expected to go before Westminster as early as September/October as part of the Stormont House agreement. In these proposals dealing with the past consists of three strands; the HIU which is the Historical Investigations Unit, the ICIR the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval and an Oral History Archive (operation revisionism). Under the European Convention the HIU is a requirement yet the two additional strands are not.

At a meeting held yesterday in Derry there was a consensus that a proper investigatory unit was required to deal with troubles related cases providing it would be independent and free from state interference. The idea that former RUC and PSNI personnel may be employed as part of the Historical Investigations Unit given their past involvement in dealing with historical cases doesn't exactly do much to instil public confidence.

Other questions asked of retired human rights lawyer Padraigin Drinan who spoke at yesterday's event centred around the ICIR and what has been described as 'limited immunity.' Many fear that this immunity is designed to allow select combatants a way of evading justice given the ambiguity around the proposals which have been drafted by local non government organisations. Some have described this immunity as amnesty by the back door.

Amnesty and immunity are protections granted to individuals or groups of people which guarantee that they will not be brought to justice for crimes that they may have committed. Amnesty is retroactive because it is granted after the fact while immunity is tied to a position. Another difference is with an amnesty there is an official pardon granted.

The role of the Oral history project was also raised, with academics from the University of Ulster said to be undergoing training on how to record these stories. These positions could well explain the silence of some local academics particularly the more vocal and seemingly active among them.

During yesterdays event one of the Bloody Sunday wounded raised issue with the possibility of the Bloody Sunday investigation being transferred from the PSNI to the HIU. In a facebook statement from some of those who had the luxury of being invited to one of three “stakeholder workshops” organised by the department of justice they had this to say on the matter.
Museum of Free Derry.

It must be noted, these 'stakeholder workshops' were not publicised with invites sent instead to 125 groups deemed 'stakeholders'. The dictionary definition of a stakeholder is a person with an interest or concern in something. That the families of victims and victims themselves were not invited to these workshops completely dismisses their interest and concern as primary stakeholders. I would go further and say that in the case of at least one of the so called victims groups who had been invited, families they claim to represent were too unaware of the stakeholder workshops. This situation was later compounded by the DOJ's refusal to meet with the victims and families publicly, with them withdrawing from the meeting less than twenty four hours before they were scheduled to arrive, offering only dubious reasoning.

People have every right to question these matters given the shambles that was made by those previously tasked and employed to deal with the past. Lest we forget the infamous Historical Enquiry Team which was later dissolved after being found to be less than professional when dealing with cases involving the British military. A short time later, in 2014 the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman decided to take the PSNI to court for refusing to provide information on over 60 troubles related deaths including the Loughinisland massacre.

So needless to say the reluctance to accept what is being proposed is understandable. After all under these new proposals a police officer cannot investigate a crime he/she is alleged to have been involved in but can investigate others. Surely if a police officer is suspected of a crime he/she should be suspended pending any investigation. But then again PSNI officers facing allegations of serious misconduct have been returned to work as was revealed in January of this year by the Ballymena Guardian.

Despite the above concerns and unanswered questions the proposed legislation is expected to see little scrutiny in Stormont with it not being Stormont legislation and no scrutiny in Westminster as it will go straight through by way of statutory instrument. In addition to this there is little time for public scrutiny or consultation.

When concerns were first raised representatives from both the Finucane Centre and Relatives for justice dismissed the idea that people were unaware of what was being proposed. Mark Thompson from Relatives for Justice had this to say:

Manufactured indignation and outrage within sections of the ‘victim community’ is probably the best way to describe the Belfast Telegraph report on a document concerning ongoing talks around dealing with the past.

Followed by:
For a tiny minority of bereaved and injured nothing short of a pound of flesh from a lynching mob will suffice even though some have already had prosecutions and convictions. The same is true of some of those within the victim sector that are really using their position for political ambition, hence much of the vitriol.

Someone should maybe explain to Mark Thompson that when you don't include victims in a process said to be for their benefit then by definition you exclude them. In basic terms, if you're not in you're out.

In a statement published on the Derry based Pat Finucane Centre's Facebook they said that the concerns raised in an article published in the Belfast Telegraph were a rehash of an old story: yet from yesterday have advertised two upcoming events on dealing with the past. Had they have advertised the “stakeholders workshop” on their Facebook they may have saved some stakeholders a lot of inconvenience and the DOJ the embarrassment of meeting with 10/11 people on August 5th in the Everglades hotel in Derry.

With department of justice officials pulling out of yesterday's meeting questions remain unanswered. What is also clear is that we have public servants refusing to engage with members of the public unless on their terms. This shows a level of control, disrespect and to quote Bloody Sunday family member Kate Nash a “lack of coherent position”.

On a brighter note there are plans to offer victims support and counselling. In between times they can visit the garden of reflection to the rear of the Hollywell Trust building in Bishop Street during opening hours! I hate to be so flippant but you really couldn't make this up!

With a lot of discussion going on around “uncomfortable conversations” it stands to reason that the victims should be included in these conversations no matter how uncomfortable.

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Anthony McIntyre

Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher

1 comment to ''All Along The Watchtower"

  1. Pauline

    Your article brings back memories of a 'closed' human rights workshop held in Queens University some years ago. Attendance was by invitation only and the organisers made the mistake to invite me (and never again).

    I heard a lot of crap about how some of those present were the champions of human rights in the 6 counties. It was at that time that I realised that those who made the biggest contribution to human rights were women and children standing in the rain outside courthouses and prisons. With the exception of Jane Winters no one else present to my knowledge had ever got their hands dirty.

    The purpose of the NGO's you mention is to represent the interests of their stake-holders in this case by informing them of these DoJ workshops and seeking a concensus on what approach to take at them. Individuals could also decide for themselves if they wished to attend or not.

    Part of the Queens workshop was taken over by a Commissioner with the governments statutory human rights agency (NIHRC) who did more to breach the right to a fair trial than defend it. Very serious allegations of torture and murder were made agaist one individual (a Minister up in Stormont) who was not in attendance and to my knowledge has never been charged with the offences alleged. The workshop was chaired by another NIHRC Commissioner and the then Chief Commssioner was also present. Neither of whom objected or disagreed in anyway withe their collegue. Everyone present was informed that the workshop was being recorded. When I asked for a copy of the recording I was told that it was deleted to protect confidentialty. So as with these recent workshops, real human rights, victims or stake-holders are not really on the agenda unless they come from the rights side of the tracks, OR, their story causes no discomfort.

    I am sure that yourself and Kate have encountered it before but there is a division in human rights activism -those who do -and a class of academic elites with clean hands who lecture everyone else about what champions they are.


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