The pain of loss, the suffering of victims’ families and the lack of information about the circumstances surrounding brutalities make the call for truth and reconciliation understandable.
Some say it is still too soon for Northern Ireland to begin a process that was adopted in South Africa with some success. The conflict in South Africa was clear-cut – disenfranchised black people and a heavy-handed apartheid regime. The politics in Ireland are more complicated, but the search for truth by victims’ families is the same.
It is not for an outsider to dictate when those who suffered during the Troubles should move on or stop their campaigns for justice. But we have the ridiculous charade of Gerry Adams arrested and interviewed for four days concerning the abduction and murder of a woman the IRA had accused of being an informer. The outcome – a possible charge of membership of an illegal organisation.
There has to be a better way of dealing with the past than doggedly hunting down the perpetrators of acts of terrorism and trying to prove their guilt in law courts forty odd years afterwards. The Omagh bombing is a case in point. No-one has been convicted in criminal law for that heinous crime. People may know, or think they know, who carried out the bombing, but the covert nature of terrorism and the potential threat to witnesses makes it very difficult to secure convictions.
There is probably no single viewpoint shared by all the victims’ families. Do they all want the perpetrators tried and convicted? Do they want justice? Is there an element of revenge or would a reduced sentence under the Good Friday Agreement suffice?
If the majority accepted that those who were members of illegal organisations and carried out terrorist acts will receive reduced sentences if they came forward, is there a next step?
Will all victims’ families ever accept a situation whereby those who robbed them of their loved ones walk free having revealed the truth of their deeds and the whereabouts of the deceased? Is there anyone who can represent the interests of all the victims’ families.
A dead soldier, terrorist, police office, civilian, employee of the British state or informant is a human being whose life was taken. Who speaks on their behalf? Is it the legal system as it exists or does humanity cry out for a better way of dealing with the past to create a more secure future?