Truth and justice are needed for a lasting peace

Truth and justice are needed for a lasting peace

PRESIDENT  Joe Biden, recently marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, spoke of how every person killed in the Troubles left "an empty chair at the dining room table and a hole in the heart that was never filled for the ones they loved”.

The impact of the 30 years of the conflict certainly left a gaping hole of grief in Irish society.

There were 3,600 lives lost over the decades of the conflict. Some 26 per cent of the population were identified as victims due to harm directly experienced or bereavement, according to the Northern Ireland Victims and Survivors Commission.

The population needs truth and justice if this open wound is to ever close.

This need became apparent to me back in the mid-1990s, as the armed conflict could be said to be drawing to a close.

Travelling for the Guardian newspaper across Ireland for the 25th anniversary of the conflict I met many who had suffered.

Sitting in John Kelly's front room in Derry with the picture of Michael on the wall, it was clear life had stopped for the family on Bloody Sunday in 1972. Michael was one of the 14 killed that day. Only justice would in any way help them find peace and move on.

The same feeling was evident with the families of those killed at the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1973.

The need for truth, justice and reconciliation kept recurring.

Unfortunately, this key issue always seemed to get kicked into the long grass with the peace process. There was a fear that any process would upset some section of the community, which seems to have become a mantra for doing very little.

The Historical Inquiries Team was set up to investigate unsolved murders. It did some good work between 2005 and 2014 but was then shut down.

The Stormont House Agreement of 2014 saw the establishment of the Historical Investigations Unit, Oral History Archive, Independent Commission on Information Retrieved and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group.

There was of course the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, which provided a comprehensive report into what happened on that day.

It drew an apology from then prime minister David Cameron in 2010.

However, the efforts of John Kelly and other relatives to secure convictions against the soldiers on that day have failed.

Soldier F was brought to court but the case collapsed.

Major issues such as collusion between state and paramilitaries has surfaced but never been addressed in full.

So, there has been a piecemeal attempt via a number of avenues, to address the legacy of suffering from the past

Now though, the British Government seems to have decided to draw a line under the whole subject.

The Troubles Bill would stop future prosecutions of perpetrators of murder, torture and other serious crimes committed during the period of the conflict.

Amnesty International, victims groups, the Northern Ireland political parties, UN Special Rapporteurs and the UN Commissioner on Human Rights are among those opposing the Bill.

The Irish Government is considering taking the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights, if the Bill becomes law.

The Troubles Bill would also create a dangerous international precedent concerning conduct in future conflicts.

The drivers of this legislation come from the right of the British political spectrum. Tory backbenchers, ex-military and police supported and amplified by the rabid right wing media.

The sight of ex-soldiers and police officers having to stand up in court to answer for what they have done angers these people.

Time to draw a line and push on with the project of organised forgetting.

This cannot be allowed to happen. The attainment of truth and justice for the past is key to sustaining peace into the future. Failure to accept and reconcile to what happened in the past will mean that the problems could recur in the future.

Retaining and pursuing the rule of law is key to a peaceful future. Not only will a comprehensive process to address the wrongs of the past help those directly effected to move on with their lives, it will also create a more accurate picture of what went on over those decades of the Troubles. Simply sweeping the whole period under the carpet, as this legislation seeks to do, will deny justice to many, whilst also aiding the creation of a wider historical amnesia. In the long term it will serve no one on these islands well.