Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

Northern Ireland - Time to Deal with the Past: Amnesty International

10:10 am

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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We are here to discuss the Amnesty International report, Northern Ireland: Time to Deal with the Past. I welcome the following: Mr. Colm O'Gorman, director of Amnesty International Ireland; Mr. Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International UK; and Mr. Kartik Raj, campaigner, EU team, Amnesty International.
The timing of this meeting is quite appropriate. We have had a challenging week in Northern Ireland relating to legacy issues' dealing with OTRs or "on-the-runs" and other difficult challenges. We are delighted that the witnesses are here today to add value to this committee's deliberations on the past. Witnesses at recent committee meetings have included Ms Kathryn Stone, the victims' commissioner, ex-prisoners, former combatants, and victims groups. It is a complex mix. The members are very well aware of the difficulties and challenges. We very much look forward to the witnesses' contribution today and we will have a good open session after their initial statements.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, you are protected by absolute privilege in respect of utterances at this committee. If you are directed by the committee to cease making remarks on a particular matter and you continue to so do, you are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of your remarks. You are directed that only comments and evidence in relation to the subject matter of this meeting are to be given and you are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, you should not criticise or make charges against a Member of either House of the Oireachtas, a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Mr. O'Gorman to make his opening statement.

Mr. Colm O'Gorman:

I thank the Chairman and the members of the committee for the invitation to present the findings of our research report, Northern Ireland: Time to Deal with the Past. We carried out the research as we approached the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the Belfast Agreement, to examine what had been put in place in Northern Ireland to investigate past human rights abuses and violations. Separately from presenting on the research and its findings, we also wish to give a view of recent developments, particularly the Haass proposals and other issues that have arisen in recent months.

Mr. Kartik Raj, a campaigner with our EU team based at our international secretariat in London, who was one of the authors of the research, will now present on the research and its findings.

Mr. Kartik Raj:

I thank the committee for inviting us. Our research assessed the investigatory mechanisms that exist in Northern Ireland in light of international human rights law and standards, and the degree to which they are delivering for victims. We recognise that not all victims seek the same things or speak with one voice; they simply cannot. Some 3,600 people were killed and more than 40,000 people were injured. However, we did hear clearly a common call among the majority of those to whom we spoke for political leaders, wherever they may be, to give greater priority to victims' quest for truth, justice, acknowledgment and support.

The central overarching finding from our research is that the approach to dealing with the past in Northern Ireland is inadequate. It too often lets victims down and falls short of the UK’s human rights obligations. Our report identifies two key problems with the current approach. The first looks at the individual mechanisms that have been established, the Historical Enquires Team, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, coroner inquests, public inquiries and criminal investigations carried out by the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

We found that victims and families who engaged with these mechanisms reported a range of experiences. Some of them found they worked well; in some instances they delivered a measure of satisfaction and some reports that were good. However, by and large our research found that the individual mechanisms were either falling short or had fallen short of human rights standards because of their failure to conduct prompt, thorough and effective independent investigations in an impartial manner. I would be happy to discuss further during questions the specific findings on those five types of investigative mechanisms.

Of more concern is the second finding, namely, that even if all these mechanisms operated fully in compliance with their mandates and design, the piecemeal and fragmented approach to investigations characteristic of Northern Ireland in this regard is too incomplete to provide a comprehensive picture of the violations and abuses suffered during the three decades. The mechanisms have inherent limitations by design. They are discrete and have an individualised nature, and as a result much of the truth about what happened remains hidden. This has contributed to a failure to develop shared public understanding and recognition of the abuses and violations committed by all sides. By "truth" I mean facts and information about human rights violations and abuses and not "truth" in a philosophical or metaphysical sense.

I wish to highlight a number of key points for the committee arising from the research. The accountability mechanisms in Northern Ireland focus primarily on killings and suspicious deaths and mostly exclude people who were injured in life-threatening attacks and those subject to torture and ill-treatment. This exclusion means the full truth about the past cannot be established and this needs to be remedied. As a result of their design the mechanisms focus on individual cases, which has limited the possibility of examining patterns of abuses and violations. This has limited wider public understanding of the wrongs perpetrated by all sides. This applies to the armed groups responsible for the vast majority of deaths and other human rights abuses during the three decades. The patterns, policies, practices, institutional culture and knowledge and responsibility of those in high-level positions of authority in these groups remain altogether unclear and underinvestigated. The role and actions of particular UK state bodies, agencies and Government departments have not been subject to effective investigation in a systematic fashion. Substantial questions remain about the degree of collusion that took place, the responsibility of various state actors and agencies, and what those in senior levels of government knew.

Based on this research we call for an overarching mechanism to be established to comprehensively address the past. The concluding pages of the report set out specific human rights guidelines which could inform the establishment of such a mechanism, which should be victim-focused and able to investigate individual cases and patterns of abuses and violations. Where sufficient evidence exists there should be the possibility of bringing those responsible to justice with the guarantee of a fair trial. It should have powers to compel witnesses and documents. It should be able to draft recommendations so victims can enjoy full reparation. We believe such a mechanism would be an important step towards ending impunity for human rights violations and abuses in Northern Ireland, and allow for public recognition about the harm inflicted by all sides, and I keep emphasising "by all sides".

Our report also highlights that any mechanism established to investigate human rights abuses and violations in Northern Ireland must be able to effectively investigate connections with Ireland. The committee is aware of the long-standing allegations that Irish authorities turned a blind eye to arms smuggling across the Border and to members of republican armed groups fleeing back to the Republic of Ireland. There are also allegations concerning collusion by An Garda Síochána and a number of cases concerning collusion between authorities in Northern Ireland and loyalist armed groups who carried out attacks and killings in counties Armagh, Louth, Monaghan and Dublin. Given these connections, we urge not only that the Irish Government supports the establishment of a comprehensive mechanism to address the past in Northern Ireland, but once established to provide it with full co-operation regarding alleged links to the Republic of Ireland and events here. This may require Ireland to enact legislation to ensure the powers of compulsion of any body extend here and work effectively here. It will require the support of Deputies and Senators across the political spectrum.

10:15 am

Mr. Patrick Corrigan:

I will pick up on the events of recent months. As members are aware in September 2013, when Amnesty published this research, the five Executive parties in Northern Ireland met in earnest under the auspices of Dr. Richard Haass and Professor Meghan O'Sullivan. With regard to these talks, Amnesty’s focus was on the strand dealing with the past. We have provided the committee with our full official response to the proposals in the draft Haass agreement of 31 December 2013. Our response focuses on the proposed establishment of an historical investigations unit, HIU, and an independent commission for information retrieval, ICIR. I will comment on particular aspects of the draft proposals.

We believe the Haass talks draft agreement provides a solid basis on which progress can, and should, be made. With respect to the HIU, the Haass proposals importantly highlight the need for a mechanism capable of carrying out investigations compliant with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights in an independent manner and, crucially, which can command the confidence of the entire community in Northern Ireland. We therefore believe efforts should now be made to introduce legislation to finally establish an effective investigatory mechanism capable of securing a measure of truth and justice for victims of human rights violations and abuses. Furthermore, as a number of cases have cross-Border implications and connections, it is important that any bodies established have the full support and co-operation of the Irish Government and its agencies, including if necessary through the drafting of legislation.

There are some areas where further clarification or perhaps changes to the Haass proposals should be considered by the parties. For example, there should be explicit guarantees of sufficient resources to such a process. The importance of guaranteeing sufficient resources is starkly highlighted by the caveat in the Haass draft agreement that the HIU would conduct reviews and investigations into cases involving serious injuries only "if resources permit". There must be an effective procedure to guarantee that all relevant intelligence, including from the UK Ministry of Defence, the security services, and other government departments, is made available to the HIU. There is some uncertainty about this as the draft stands.

Amnesty International considers the proposals in the draft agreement for a separate truth or information recovery process, the ICIR, provide a good basis on which to pursue further discussions. However, we believe the powers and remit of the ICIR as conceived in the agreement need to be strengthened in a number of areas. For instance, powers of compulsion are entirely absent from the proposals for the ICIR. This means it would be left to operate on the basis of purely voluntary co-operation of persons willing to give testimony. This is particularly important with respect to the role of the ICIR in the examination of patterns and policies, where its lack of powers to compel witnesses or the production of documents would significantly undermine its ability to come to informed conclusions. With regard to exposing a wider narrative of what happened and wider analysis we may be left short yet again.

The key point is that at present these draft proposals remain just that, draft proposals. It is important we do not let another opportunity slip by where sensible proposals which have achieved a measure of cross-party support and which could be developed, brought into existence and have the capacity to deliver for victims and their families, come to nothing because of a lack of sufficient political will to bring them over the line. We are deeply concerned the Haass proposals on the past may be held hostage to the lack of agreement on flags and parades, or fall victim to the recent row about the UK Government’s scheme for so-called "on the runs".

The Downey case is a stark example of how the on-the-runs scheme has the potential to perpetuate impunity. We are concerned that there may be other cases where similar errors have been made and where the prosecution of members of armed groups suspected of committing abuses may fail for the same or similar reasons. The announcement by the UK Prime Minister of a judge-led inquiry to examine the scheme is a positive development. It must be made clear that the assurances contained in the letters received by those on the run cannot be a bar to further investigation or the possibility of bringing fresh prosecutions.

These recent revelations show precisely why a new comprehensive approach to dealing with the past – rather than the fragmented, piecemeal approach adopted to date – is needed in order for victims of human rights abuses and violations across the board to secure truth and justice. We urge the Northern Ireland political parties and the UK and Irish Governments to play their part in taking forward the proposals. As the draft agreement emphasises, the time to rise to the challenge of the past is now, as “Northern Ireland does not have the luxury of putting off this difficult, but potentially transformative, task any longer.” Amnesty International asks this committee to support our calls. We urge the committee to encourage the Irish Government to work towards the establishment of a comprehensive mechanism to address the past in Northern Ireland and, if it is established, to provide full co-operation with its work and investigations.

10:25 am

Dr. Alasdair McDonnell:

I have a comment rather than a question to get the discussion going. I thank Amnesty International for the report and for its efforts. It has been a great help. I am glad that Amnesty International believes the Haass process was useful, because people such as Mark Durkan, and Alex Attwood, put a lot of effort into making it useful.
Regarding thematic matters, does Amnesty International feel we were demanding too much or too little? Did the document known as Haass 7 produce enough on thematic matters? It is the big point of political contention, which has been ongoing in subsequent discussions. How important are thematic matters? How do we balance individual satisfaction, individually tailored results or packages for the individual victims vis-à-visthe thematic matters? Do we set thematic matters at a higher level or is it more relevant or less relevant than individual satisfaction for the victims? The current situation is all individualised and much of the resistance to dealing with the past on Haass continues to be around thematic matters.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the representatives of Amnesty International to the committee. There is a cliché that we cannot change the past but there is agreement that our attitudes to the past can change. That is important. We all accept we have been changed and hurt by the conflict but also by the peace process. It is an important message about this report. The witnesses say there is failure to agree on aspects of the Haass proposals. Where is the problem? The Unionists have problems with it but they have not said publicly what the problem is. How do the witnesses believe we can move beyond Haass on this point? Sinn Féin shares the belief that the Haass proposals provide a further step to move things forward through recovery for survivors. We believe the process proposed should be enacted. In the view of the SDLP and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, there is potential for agreement, but the Unionists have stalled it.

The Good Friday Agreement, the Weston Park agreement, the St. Andrews Agreement and other agreements include the rights and entitlements of victims. Does Amnesty International have a view on the failure of the governments, as guarantors of the agreement, to have a public inquiry into the Pat Finucane murder and the refusal of the British Government to provide evidence and information on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the delivery of a bill of rights, the Irish language, the civic forum and the lack of powers in respect of human rights? The witnesses talked about the difficulties of the piecemeal approach to victims in the North. Do the witnesses accept there is also a piecemeal approach to victims in the South and victims in Britain? How do we approach that? Should there be an all-encompassing agreement in respect of how we approach victims of the conflict? People were bereaved and injured in this State and elsewhere, yet there is a disparity. Families in the State have initiated investigations by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland in respect of the failings of the RUC, yet there is no similar system for a GSOC investigation of the Garda Síochána. The same applies to historic inquiries. People have difficulties with that. There is a lack of support to victims and victims' advocates. Should we look at the issue of victims and truth overall? I do not see why we cannot have truth recovery in respect of people in Britain. Will the Brits open up their political and military archives in respect of their involvement? I cannot see that happening.

The on-the-runs were mentioned in respect of the John Downey case. My understanding is that letters of impunity were not an amnesty and only mean the person is not wanted on the basis of the evidence available at that time. It is not an amnesty. The witness said there was difficulty with the Downey case and people are saying this was a secret deal. The Unionists claimed they were not aware of it, but it was discussed with Unionists and they were fully aware of it. People are playing games. It was one of the outstanding aspects of the Weston Park agreement and there was acceptance that we had to address the issue and move on. No one is talking about an amnesty. The letters mean that when the letters were published, no information could implicate these people through the courts.

Mr. Mark Durkan:

I welcome Amnesty International's work on the past and the authority, consideration, sensitivity and seriousness it brings. The report produced, "Northern Ireland: Time to Deal with the Past", coincided with the Haass process and provided much useful thought for people who must grapple with these issues.

Richard Haass and Meghan O'Sullivan particularly appreciated it because it helped them navigate some of the issues and considerations involved. A few of us have picked up on the point about the deficit, inadequacies or inequalities among some of the provisions for dealing with the past, which are quite unsatisfactory. Some people appear to be able to get satisfaction out of aspects of the work of the historical enquiries team, HET, while others cannot because of its poor character in respect of army deaths. Even where people were satisfied with the HET's report on their individual cases, the wider public and future generations did not necessarily benefit if the report was deemed to be the private property of the families.
The publication of the book Lethal Alliesand the great work of Anne Cadwallader and the Pat Finucane Centre showed the difference it makes when somebody takes several cases the HET has examined together and supplements them with other investigative and research work in national archives. They were able to produce a much bigger and more compelling narrative which awakened public interest and concern in important ways. The work told some of those families for the first time that their loved ones had been killed by the same weapons and, in effect, the same network. It showed that no matter how good the HET’s work, there was still a deficit in the truth given to the families, and certainly in the truth given to the public. That is all the more reason it is important that these patterns, lessons, thematics - whatever generic term we put on them - must be part of the further approach to dealing with the past. As well as continuing high-quality individual investigations, if people want to call them that, and making sure they are robustly compliant with Article 2, unlike some of the HET’s previous work, this is the best way to deal with the past.
I welcome what Amnesty International said here today and what is in its post-Haass paper, which points out that while the Haass report's draft proposals are very strong, there are wrinkles to be ironed out, such as the reference only to PSNI intelligence files. It is vacant and oblique on whether it covers intelligence in this jurisdiction and in Britain. Why should it be confined to intelligence held by the PSNI? The scope of victimhood, conflict and atrocity is wider than Northern Ireland and than what would be contained in PSNI files.
Amnesty International feels the terms for recovery from the Independent Commission for Information are too loose, and it is a case of awaiting information. Maybe it is not proactive enough. We want to make it more proactive in several ways and have argued for that during and since the discussions. It might be more difficult to agree on the powers of compellability we would give it. I am not sure all parties would go the same distance. We have to get a balance and a perspective there.
Whatever else the parties disagree on, and whatever sensitivities are involved, the report of the Consultative Group on the Past in Northern Ireland, known as the Eames Bradley report, and all parties in the Haass talks, agree that amnesty is not a basis for dealing with the past. Several people seem to be have been quite confused about that recently, Peter Hain among them. In interviews he recommends amnesty on the back of the recent case. He says the recent case was not about an amnesty, but public knowledge of it means that we should move to amnesty for soldiers, police, Loyalists and everybody, which is a peculiar argument. He also says that, rather than being concerned about what has happened, people should move on, look to the future and move forward with Haass and Eames Bradley, but he ignores the fact that Haass and Eames Bradley made the fundamental point that amnesty was not a basis for dealing with the past. That is backlit in a very important and cogent way by Amnesty International’s documents, and what we have heard today.
People were aware that there was an arrangement by which people outside the jurisdiction could find out whether they would be in peril of arrest if they came back in. Whenever the so-called on-the-runs Bill, which was not about on-the-runs but was about a general secret amnesty scheme, was on the go, some of us said surely there could be a means by which people or their lawyers could find out and be told of the peril. The British Government and Sinn Féin told us that would not be possible and would not be enough. Now we are told the scheme put in place after the Bill had to be pulled is exactly that. Now that we can read the letters, we can see that is what they purport to say. Deputy Crowe is right about that. The difference is that that is not what the court in London was told. The court decided that there was in effect impunity, that the sky would fall in if the prosecution proceeded on the basis of any other evidence or reasons for justice, because of Peter Hain’s and Jonathan Powell’s evidence. The letters are less the problem than the import attributed to them in a court. The like of that would not, and could not, happen in this jurisdiction. A court of this Republic would not say all the evidence is dismissed because of other evidence and affidavits from some politicians or a former political adviser. That would not override and undermine everything else. It would not happen. That is the problem. There is confusion about where the problem, the issue and the questions lie.

10:35 am

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the representatives of Amnesty International here today. I will not delay the meeting as I have had the opportunity to engage directly with the guests, but I welcome the research, the report and the proposals it contains.
I understand the HET has been practically stood down. From its research and engagement with different stakeholders, would Amnesty International think a re-established HET with an enhanced role could provide a worthwhile framework to move the issues around dealing with the past forward? Mr. Durkan referred to Anne Cadwallader’s very good book, Lethal Allies, dealing with extremely difficult issues. It brought facts into the open for many families. Margaret Irwin of Justice for the Forgotten is here today and I would like to compliment her, Ms Cadwallader and their colleagues in the Pat Finucane Centre on continuing to work as strong advocates for so many bereaved families.

There is another issue on which I would like a public pronouncement, namely, the failure of the British Government to respond positively to the all-party unanimous request of this Parliament to seek British co-operation in handing over all original documents on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings of 1974. We will soon reach the 40th anniversary of those atrocities, the largest single slaughter of innocent people on our island during that very difficult period referred to as the Troubles. An all-party motion was moved in Dáil Éireann in July 2008 by the then Government Chief Whip and it received the unanimous support of Dáil Éireann. The request was reiterated by a unanimous motion in Dáil Éireann in July 2011 but unfortunately there has been no response from the British Government to our request that the documentation be provided to allow proper inquiries to be followed up. Will Amnesty International, in whatever channel it communicates with the British Government, support the request of a sovereign Parliament to another sovereign Government?

I commend the witnesses on their work. A range of issues has been covered and they are all extremely important. Will the witnesses revert on the potential for an enhanced historical enquiries team, HET?

10:45 am

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I join in welcoming our three guests. It is instructive to have pointed out to us the limitations of the work of the historical investigations team and particularly the failure to get a handle on collusion on state involvement, as well as the institutional culture of the armed groups. There is also the failure to establish complete trust across the community and among victims. The witnesses have also pointed out the difficulty arising from the Haass recommendations not being implemented.

I am interested in the take on the Downey case and its implications. Until it is resolved by the judge's report, the matter is effectively on hold and nothing can happen. Deputy Crowe's variation is that if there were investigations of victims' requests, new prosecutions could ensue on new evidence. It is a grey area between old and new evidence. It is an interesting conundrum that may bring about an operational cul-de-sac. I presume that and the non-implementation of the Haass process create the biggest difficulties. My constituency colleague, Deputy Smith, asked if a revised HET could do the business. I am fascinated by the gap between the witnesses' interpretation of the Downey issue and Deputy Crowe's interpretation, as they seem different.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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Before going back to the witnesses I commend them on their helpful work. When we consider the absolutes inherent in the dirty war for 30 years, as people had a fixed position and one group was right and another was wrong, bar stool conversations meant everybody had a fixed opinion. We have had many groups before us and some want justice, others want truth and yet others want acknowledgement. Some groups want closure but others disagree with that term. It is such a complex issue and people are not having the conversation around absolutes in dealing with the past. How can we marry the conversation when people have a fixed position on how to deal with the past and when there is a complex mix of opinions? The witnesses may not be able to answer the question specifically but in coming together we are highlighting the need for a mechanism to deal with the past.

Mr. Colm O'Gorman:

When the Chairman states that people have a fixed position, does he mean the parties to devising or developing a process and various governments may have fixed positions?

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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I am not necessarily referring to parties. As Deputy Smith noted, Justice for the Forgotten has a line regarding what it wants from the process but other groups want other goals. How can such disparate issues be brought together?

Mr. Colm O'Gorman:

The Chairman is quite right to point out that range of opinion and even disagreement about what the past represents or how we get to it. That, combined with the piecemeal approach adopted thus far, is part of what creates the difficulty. As a human rights organisation the committee should not be surprised that we think there is a rather good framework that could be applied in dealing with the past, namely, the framework of international human rights law. At the state level we want a framework to be put in place that is fully compliant with international human rights standards, as that is the framework that needs to be applied. In doing so, the process must consider, primarily and centrally, the needs and rights of victims of violations.

This theme emerges strongly from research. There was an event in Dublin last night at which victims groups like Justice for the Forgotten presented. Members are aware of this because they met victims and victims groups. Deputy Crowe referred to the notion that we cannot change the past, and we can all agree on that. We must deal with the way in which the past is people's present; we are not talking about looking at history but rather considering the impact of past events on people's lives today. It is a real issue for many people, as the committee is aware. The international human rights law framework provides for clear obligations on the part of states and a framework that should be applied. Processes and systems which are developed must comply with those international obligations, and that can guide people objectively.

I will ask my colleague, Mr. Raj, to speak to the question of conflict in how to address these issues or the priority to be applied to broad thematic matters.

Mr. Kartik Raj:

One member's question was answered by another member. The positive work in the Haass draft proposal 7 on thematics was the acknowledgment that there was a series of thematics that needed addressing, including alleged collusion between governments and loyalist and republican armed groups, and reported targeting of off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers, prison officers and Royal Ulster Constabulary officers. There is also the question of whether the Republic of Ireland or any of its authorities provided a safe haven to members of republican armed groups and the mistreatment of detainees and prisoners. It is really important that Mr. Durkan, MP, has highlighted the work of the Pat Finucane Centre, for example, in joining the dots of the Glennane series and the work of a particular constellation of armed group members working across the Border with relative impunity over a long period. It is not so much an issue of ascribing a higher or lower level of importance to individual satisfaction and the broader thematic examination as it is to say that those individuals whose families suffered a loss of life deserve in their individual case an Article 2 compliant mechanism. Society, more broadly, requires a mechanism that is not constrained by that sort of tunnel vision so it can look across and find patterns. It should not be left to individual families and the non-governmental organisations advocating for them to speak to each other across cases based on private reports handed to them or pick up things in the media on a report handed to family X or family Y to say "that sounds familiar to something that happened in the report I was given."

For there to be public confidence and trust in believing the mechanism is adequately addressing systemic violations and abuses in the past there needs to be the joining of these dots. If the HIU is able to do some of these things, that would be an incredibly welcome step.

10:55 am

Mr. Patrick Corrigan:

I will pick up on some of the questions on the responsibilities of the UK and Irish Governments to deliver in terms of what happened the past and whether it seems to us that they are prepared to fulfil that role. When we met the Haass team at the beginning of September just at the point where we were about to publish our report – we provided it with an advance copy – we wished it well with its endeavours, but we noted at that stage that there were two crucial actors missing from the Haass talks, namely, the UK Government and the Irish Government. Whatever one might say about delivery on flags and parades being very much a devolved issue, dealing with the past is an issue that spreads across the jurisdictions and responsibility for delivering the powers, resources and co-operation to make these mechanisms work for victims is shared in Belfast, Dublin and London. One of the weaknesses of the outcome of the Haass process is that there is a lack of clarity about where the UK and Irish Governments now sit and the degree to which they are in a position to deliver fully. We must take at face value the public commitment that has since come from Ministers in both the UK and Irish Governments that they broadly endorse the Haass proposals and that they stand prepared to deliver. What we think is missing is a more proactive leadership role. That is a shared responsibility in dealing with the past and it will be important – as we said in our full response to the Haass document – that authorities and archives in the Republic of Ireland and the UK are made available to the investigative units, the HIU and the ICIR. Work could now be done, without waiting necessarily for the Northern Ireland party discussions to pick up again, to scope out, in particular, in terms of legislation or other commitments from government that could be made by Westminster and the Oireachtas.

It is clear that work will be required on the delivery of the Haass proposals. More than lip service could be paid to this and work could be under way. That shows more than a sitting back and a waiting for the process to take its course. We very much welcome the verbal commitments given by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach in response to the Haass proposals, but there is more work to be done. It was correct to identify that we had seen shortcomings elsewhere. We have not seen an inquiry for which we and the Finucane family have called into the murder of Pat Finucane. We have not seen a public inquiry established into the circumstances leading up to and following the Omagh bombing. We have seen shortcomings elsewhere, including in the delivery of other parts of the Good Friday Agreement. The Bill of Rights still remains an undelivered part of the commitments given by the two sovereign Governments in 1998 and Amnesty International, with hundreds of other civil society groups in Northern Ireland, still want to see delivery on it. We think it would play a useful role in establishing a human rights framework to tackle some of the other contentious decisions that Northern Ireland faces all of the time. It might be flags and parades on the agenda at the moment, but it might be other issues in a year’s time. Until we have that long-term human rights framework in place, we will continue to be faced with short-term crises and crisis discussions about how we find short-term mechanisms or solutions to these issues.

We urge the UK and Irish Governments to play a very active role in trying to bring agreement and show their bona fides in delivering on the Haass proposals and ironing out these wrinkles, as Mr. Durkan identified, and in also considering what else they might need to do outside of the confines of the Haass proposals to deliver for victims in other jurisdictions. We are aware that there are victims in both the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain and elsewhere who also appeal for truth and justice in their cases. The UK and Irish Governments clearly have responsibilities to them.

Mr. Colm O'Gorman:

I hope that will answer Deputy Brendan Smith's question on the failure of the British Government to respond positively to the request to hand over information. It is very clear that we want to see meaningful, effective investigations and inquiries of violations, wherever they have occurred. The obligation on state parties is to ensure that happens.

Deputy Joe O’Reilly has left the meeting, but I wish to make a quick comment in response to his question about the conflict between what he saw as our take on the Downey case and its implications and the position presented by Deputy Seán Crowe. Our take, if we can describe it as such, is only based on what we are aware of from what is already in the public domain on the issue. That speaks to the general concern about the piecemeal approach, lack of clarity, information, transparency and effective, cohesive processes to deal with the past and the complications that arise because of this.

Mr. Mark Durkan:

I note that Mr. Patrick Corrigan referred to the commitments and indications from both Governments and that he referred, in particular, to the Secretary of State. Does he have any concern that the Secretary of State seemed to only be particular about the fact that the Haass proposals might entail legislation in Westminster on devolving responsibility for parades and that she conspicuously avoided any indication that there might need to be legislation in respect of provisions to provide for qualified-purpose immunity and other things for the arrangements set up under the Haass proposals? It is not only legislative authorisations that are needed or sufficient to help to make the Haass proposals work on the rounded basis to which Mr. Corrigan referred.

Mr. Patrick Corrigan:

I agree that the UK Government needs to deliver legislation, a clear commitment to co-operation and, as necessary, additional resources in order to ensure mechanisms to investigate what happened in the past can adequately do their job. While a broad welcome has been given by the Secretary of State and there has been an endorsement of the work done during the Haass process, we have lacked detail in terms of commitments from the UK Government to ensure delivery and a full acknowledgement of its role and responsibilities. More work needs to be done by both the UK Government and the authorities in Dublin. It seems to us that the process is most effective when the UK and Irish Governments are able to work in concert in delivering on their sovereign Government responsibilities both in their own right but also as co-guarantors of the Agreement of 1998. We urge the Secretary of State and the wider UK Government to be more active in their leadership and indicate what it is they are willing to do beyond broad welcomes and endorsement.

Mr. Colm O'Gorman:

There are two points we probably need to clarify.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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I will allow Deputy Seán Crowe to speak first.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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On the Haass proposals, the two Governments will state the initiative came from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. It was a way of trying to move matters forward. I agree entirely with what has been said about the two Governments needing to scope out the situation. Reference was made to victims in the North, but what about victims in the South? What would the argument be if the delegates were to meet the Government? I have mentioned that there is a commission and a forum in the North. There is support and a mechanism for historical inquiries or people going to the Ombudsman’s office that are not available in this jurisdiction.

That is an anomaly within the system. The Good Friday Agreement was supposed to be about moving forward and best practice for the future, but we still have not got this. Mention was made of a scoping exercise, but what could be done if Amnesty International could meet the Government? The Government is not paralysed and the two Governments could move the situation forward. If there cannot be an agreement on human rights in the North, there is nothing to stop the two Governments in pushing ahead with simple issues such as support for victims, their advocates and organisations. What would Amnesty International advise in that regard? It states the approach is piecemeal, but what is being suggested is piecemeal also. We do not look at that bigger picture and at those in Britain and so on. What would Amnesty International state and what are its proposals in this regard?

11:05 am

Mr. Kartik Raj:

What we come back to is the research on the basis of which we make our recommendations. Our research focused on the existing investigative mechanisms in Northern Ireland and we found them to be fragmented and piecemeal. That is not to say we are not aware or cognisant of the fact that there is a lack of effective mechanisms across the board or that families of people suffering human rights abuses in Britain do not have recourse to parallel mechanisms. As the Deputy pointed out, this has created anomalies, where families in one jurisdiction must reach out to a mechanism in another.

In general, the recommendations we make are based on the research we have conducted. We encourage the Irish State to ensure adequate provision of support and comply with inquiries where they are needed. These mechanisms require co-operation from the authorities and agencies on both sides of the Border, but as we know from the most recent high profile tribunal, this was a particular stumbling block in the provision and disclosure of information. These are difficult issues, but they are precisely the kind of questions that need to be addressed in taking forward the Haass proposals.

I will return to two earlier questions. Mr. Durkan made a point on intelligence files, not just PSNI intelligence files. This is something I highlight in terms of the work of the proposed Historic Investigations Unit, HIU. A serious amount of clarity is required in terms of how any post-Haass investigative body would access intelligence information held beyond the PSNI such as that held by other police forces in the United Kingdom, security services, Government Departments, the Ministry of Defence and law enforcement agencies in Ireland and how it might request information held by law enforcement agencies in other states. What is absolutely necessary is a discussion from this moment, rather than a day on which the Haass proposals will begin to be implemented, of what precise legislation would be needed here in Ireland, Westminster and Stormont to enable that provision of information in order for these investigations to be effective. Non-access to intelligence information cannot be the stumbling block every investigation hits at some point. I encourage members, across the board, to focus on this issue, but it has repeatedly been the obstacle to accountability.

The second question was put to us by Deputy Brendan Smith and reiterated by the Vice Chairman. It concerned our views on an enhanced historical enquiries team, HET, or an HET+. We have spoken to the Northern policing board about this and, as things stand, have not, to date, seen a proposal for a historical enquiries team that would satisfy international human rights law and standards. We have not seen such a proposal and none has been put forward. What was put forward following the latest crisis and the report of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary was an HET that appeared, on all points, to be less independent than the one before it in terms of its answerability in the chain of command. This is not a positive development and I cannot say we have seen any proposal for one that might be better, but the historical investigations unit may well offer the way forward in this regard.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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We are under pressure timewise, but perhaps I might throw something into the mix. The Eames-Bradley recommendation of a £12,000 reconciliation payment was controversial and failed. As we have not mentioned money or economics today, I think I should throw it into the mix. Some 3,600 people were killed during the Troubles and 40,000 injured, not to mention those affected psychologically or the relatives of those who were physically hurt or died. We engage in significant outreach work. We visit Northern Ireland and have visited east Belfast. Recently we were in parts of Derry visiting the Nationalist community and have visited Loyalist and Unionist communities in Belfast. The people are talking about the peace dividend, not necessarily on an individual basis but in communities. They are asking what has been achieved since 1998, whether there are jobs or extra benefits as a result of the peace process. What weight does Amnesty International place on the economic dividend for communities? The committee constantly raises issues about the A5 and Narrow Water bridge projects which would bring tangible economic benefits to regions and generate greater economic and societal prosperity. What weight does Amnesty International place on the economic dividend as a way of dealing with past neglect in communities that have been hurt and left out of prosperity in the past? What weight does it place on it, not on an individual level - I do not want go into specific payments such as that included in the Eames-Bradley recommendation - but at the collective level for communities that have lost out?

Mr. Patrick Corrigan:

I thank the Chairman for that question. We make reference to resources and the cost of putting these mechanisms in place and call on the relevant Government authorities, including those in London and Dublin, in addition to Stormont, to deliver adequate resources to ensure we have effective mechanisms that can address what happened in the past in delivering on victims' rights to access truth and justice. The mechanisms we have in place which are flawed and sometimes fail cost a significant amount. We believe they should be brought together in a single overarching mechanism as a way of doing the job properly and ensuring the resources being spent on failing initiatives are spent on an effective mechanism.

On the wider question of the peace dividend post-1994 or 1998, there has been economic improvement in some respects in Northern Ireland, in addition to the huge gains made owing to the relative lack of violence and disorder compared to the previous period. However, it is clear from the research that the economic dividend has not been spread equally across all communities in Northern Ireland and that those who were poorest during the period of the conflict and suffered the most violence are still the poorest and in the most deprived regions.

There has been a dogged blockage of the transformation of those communities. We fear that the systems and decision making in terms of resource allocation are still not there yet. We would argue that a human-rights-based approach to resource allocation and political decision-making in Northern Ireland would be beneficial in the context of addressing the needs of the most deprived communities. That is why we would advocate the development of a bill of rights, not only in order to address some of the civil and political injustices of the past which persist into the present but also the economic and social rights deprivations from the past which also remain today. We think there is a very powerful case for putting in place a framework that would assist politicians in making decisions that would improve the lives of the most vulnerable and the poorest in Northern Ireland; not to tie their hands or to make decisions for them but to enable them to make key decisions which are transformative and which will help to embed the peace. These are interlinked issues and we should not just focus on short-term measures and mechanisms or indeed, on the formal mechanisms for addressing the past but try to develop a human rights based society in Northern Ireland which has been lacking in the past.

11:15 am

Mr. Mark Durkan:

I note the emphasis in that last answer on the importance of the bill of rights which, of course, was a key promise of the Agreement. A number of promises in the Agreement, including those dealing with victims and with the past, have not been properly fulfilled. In the context of the very strong message that we got from former US President Bill Clinton about finishing the job, it is important to point out that finishing the job does not mean not dealing with the past. It actually means delivering on the promises made to victims in the Agreement in respect of the past. It also means the development of a bill of rights, among other measures. One of the things that struck me about the recent case in London was that the court based its decision primarily on the evidence of Jonathan Powell and Peter Hain to the effect that it would be critical and fundamental if the word of a State official was not upheld, even if that word was in a letter that was issued by mistake or that contained a mistake. They suggested that the sky would fall in if the promise of the State in a negotiated process was not upheld. The fact is that the State has made many promises that have not been upheld, including promises to the Finucane family and the to the general public about the conditions and circumstances under which a public inquiry would be held and so forth. The Hain and Powell evidence also drew on Weston Park quite a bit. They said that this was agreed by all parties in Weston Park when actually there was no agreement in Weston Park about this or indeed about anything else. We did get agreed papers from the two Governments after Weston Park to which parties could respond but not all parties agreed with the priorities therein. It was suggested that there was an all-party agreement and as a result, the State gave its word. As we heard from Deputy Brendan Smith, there was clearly a united, all-party demand from the Dáil to the British Government but it is not respecting that. It is a question of double standards where there is an absolute about the word of the State and therefore a promise has to be upheld, even if it was given privately and in an arrangement that was only agreed with one party. At the same time, elements that are actually part of the Agreement or solemn promises given in the process since the Agreement are not being upheld. For all of us involved politically in the process, that should be an added consideration, over and above the particular sensitivities that were voiced in the aftermath of the court decision last week.

Mr. Colm O'Gorman:

If the Chair is agreeable, my colleague, Mr. Kartik Raj would like to add a brief comment before we finish.

Mr. Kartik Raj:

I thank the Chair for his indulgence and wish to respond to his point about economics. Clearly, the continuing relative deprivation in the worst affected areas was an important foundational context for the research we undertook. In that context, we must acknowledge the work of the late Inez McCormack through the Participation and Practice of Rights Project in highlighting that aspect of the failure to come to terms with the past. As an international human rights group examining the issue of dealing with the past through the lens of the right to effective remedy, I would point the committee to pages 18 and 19 of our full report where we lay out the five recognised forms of reparation that include a range of measures that would allow for the repair of the harm caused to survivors and victims, including individual restitution, compensation and rehabilitation as well as more general societal guarantees of non-repetition or recurrence. The latter refers to broader societal initiatives, institutional reforms, increasing trust in the rule of law, fostering a society that has greater respect for human rights and restoring public trust in authority. We are seeing some tangible results in that context, as part of the peace dividend.

Mr. Colm O'Gorman:

To add to that last point, what is crucially important in that context is a transparent process through which people can see how decisions are made. That is where the bill of rights becomes fundamentally important. In this jurisdiction we have just had a debate at the Constitutional Convention on the question of constitutional protection for economic, social and cultural rights. We argue for that protection because, as Mr. Patrick Corrigan said, it does not bind the hands of governments. Instead, it provides for an objective framework through which difficult and complex decisions are made about resource allocation, service delivery and guiding principles for social policy; a framework that is transparent, where there is accountability and clarity of responsibility. In that way, people can have confidence in the decisions made by governments. It also ensures that governments can make decisions that are outcomes focused, evidence based and so forth. In the context of the conflict and the view of various communities in Northern Ireland that they have been left behind, it is even more important. That is why, for us, the bill of rights is so fundamentally important.

This research is part of work carried out by Amnesty International at the global level. My colleagues, Mr. Kartik Raj and Mr. Patrick Corrigan, have been leading this work and have been engaged in Ireland in advocacy and other work following on from the publication of the report. Looking at it from this part of this island, one of the things that struck me was a comment by Mr. Paul Gallagher who said that there was a feeling that people are waiting for the victims to die out. We do not have a great history on this island of dealing with our past. Surely, one of the things we can learn is that when we do not deal with the past, it lives on. If Mr. Gallagher and other victims eventually die out and we fail to deliver justice, truth and reparation for them, the past will not go away. These are issues which are cross-generational and which, to make a philosophical point, live in the stones of places.

Many of us on this side of the Border will remember that after the Good Friday Agreement, conversations suddenly started about things that happened in earlier generations including, for example, during the Civil War. I remember growing up in rural Wexford and stories were told but never told about the fact that three Free State soldiers had been shot dead outside what became the back door of the house in which I grew up. I never heard anything more than the fact that it happened. We talked about it but did not talk about it. Then, in 2004, I was contacted by someone who wanted to raise money to erect a memorial to those three soldiers because they had died a bad death. Gradually that story emerged and came out. It is extraordinary the things we do not talk about. There was nobody still alive who was involved in that incident.

This was not something that was dealt with even by the descendants of those individual victims but lived on and resonated within that small community.

Dealing with the past needs to be victim-centred but we also need to recognise the importance and value of doing it on a much broader scale. Our focus is on the international human rights law framework and the need for effective justice and reparations for victims of violations, wherever they might be. In the context of this research, we are looking at mechanisms in Northern Ireland. All of us need to reflect on the vital importance of learning from the mistakes of failing to deal with the recent past and to think about the level of courage that is required for us to do it better in the future.

I thank the committee for giving us so much time today.

11:25 am

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the delegation for its presentation.

Sitting suspended at 12.01 p.m. and resumed at 12.02 p.m.