Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 9 November 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement
Legacy Issues Affecting Victims and Relatives in Northern Ireland: Discussion (Resumed)
I welcome you all here today. I apologise again for the delay in the meeting. I do not think it is acceptable to ask you to travel such long distances at 4.15 p.m. on a Thursday evening, but there are particular reasons why the meeting is being held today at this time. There were problems to do with accommodation for the meeting itself. Due to the Finance Bill 2017 there has been a series of other meetings within the building itself, and that has caused difficulty. Again, I apologise, as I am conscious that many of you have long distances to travel and it is a winter evening. Hopefully we will get through our business as soon as possible.
I would like to warmly and formally welcome the following witnesses to our meeting: Mr. Kenny Donaldson, Mr. Ken Funston and Ms Karen McAnerney of Innocent Victims United; Mr. Austin Stack and Mr. David Kelly of the Independent Victims and Survivors Coalition; and Ms Barbara Walsh and Mr. Pat Hynes of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation.
I will shortly invite you to give your opening statements and afterwards there will be some questions from the committee. For those of you who have not been before the committee in the past, first, there is a notice on mobile phones. Please switch them off, as they interfere with the speaking equipment and the recording equipment in the committee rooms. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I will now call on witnesses to make their opening statements. I call on Mr. Stack.
Mr. Austin Stack:
I thank the committee for inviting us here today to give evidence. The Independent Victims and Survivors Coalition is a group that was formed to give a voice to people in the Republic of Ireland who have been most affected by the Northern Ireland Troubles. Our group is independent and non-political, and is open to all innocent victims and survivors. While we appreciate the support that has been shown to us by many individual members of the public and by various media outlets, our voices have been largely forgotten by politicians and policy makers. We feel that official Ireland has very badly let us down. Our group has come together to collectively address this imbalance and to ensure that the legacy work in relation to the Troubles does not forget or continue to ignore those innocent victims and survivors who suffered at the hands of the terrorists. We want to play our part in shaping a better Ireland, North and South, but we cannot do this if our voices continue to go unheard. In a presentation to this committee in 2015 we outlined the four main aims of our group; truth recovery; justice; support and services; and remembrance and recognition. These aims remain the same and sadly there has been little or no progress in most of the areas of concern that we raised.
I will address truth recovery first. A recent research study that I carried out among 80 victims and survivors of the Troubles has revealed some very interesting information. While it is generally recognised that there are many unsolved crimes from the Troubles, there was a 92% non-conviction rate in the sample involved, with 80% of those crimes dating back 25 years or more. Some 95% of those surveyed expressed a desire to get answers and truth. This comes against a background where those terrorists who committed these crimes have been aided and supported by both governments in living a full life and all that that entails, while those who have lived in the shadow of these crimes have not been so lucky. The victims in these cases have had no answers to their questions, have had no admissions of responsibility and will most likely never get justice for their loved ones.
In the face of such realities the survey found that 42% would readily commit to an informal justice approach to truth recovery, while 30% replied “Maybe” and only 28% definitely ruled it out. Those figures suggest that victims and survivors are more than willing to fully commit to a truth recovery process. However, the biggest obstacle to participating for those who opted for “No” or “Maybe” is the area of truth. This became very evident in the focus groups that were conducted as part of this research. Victims and survivors have very little confidence that former terrorists will have any incentive to tell the truth and many would point to my own attempt at truth recovery as an example where a victim was not dealt with in a truthful fashion by the terrorists or their political allies. In fact, many victims and survivors feel that the political organisations who are aligned to the former terrorists will never take responsibility for their actions, as evidenced recently when the murder of Tom Oliver was labelled a “political killing”. Truth is something which does not sit easily with these organisations.
It is for these reasons, as stated before the committee in 2015, that our group feels the truth recovery process, as envisaged and agreed by the Governments in the Stormont House Agreement, falls well short of meeting the needs of victims.
As stated in 2015, the following is required in order for the Stormont House Agreement to become acceptable to victims. The process of truth recovery must be victim-centred with victim representatives involved in the structures, management and oversight of the process, as envisaged by the Hass proposals. Not including the victims' voices at this level is a grave mistake and needs to be rectified by the Governments. The process of truth recovery must be done in public so that victims who have had to suffer quite publicly and who have been subjected to public denials over a long number of years can have a public admission of truth. There can be no hidden truths. The process of truth recovery must be transparent. The current proposals stop well short of giving victims all the relevant information regarding their cases. Crucially, they do not allow victims to meet with or question those supplying information or the perpetrators. In order for us to trust the process, we need to be able to test and question the evidence. Being handed a report by a third party is not acceptable and it is not truth recovery.
I turn to the matter of justice. In our evidence before this committee in 2015, we highlighted concerns on two specific issues relating to justice for victims and we asked the committee for its help and support in these areas. The first relates to remarks made by former Attorney General, Senator Michael McDowell, in which he stated to various media outlets that a Government decision was taken not to pursue historical cases from the Troubles era. At the time, we asked for clarity to be sought in relation to this matter. The second relates to our concerns about the way many of the investigations relating to crimes from the Troubles were carried out. There appears to have been a gross mismanagement of many cases and these unfortunately all seem to be quite similar in nature. We asked the committee to support us in calling for a full public inquiry into the way these investigations were carried out. No progress has been made on either of these issues. We are again asking the committee to seek clarification in relation to the first issue by asking Senator McDowell to give evidence to the committee and, secondly, to publicly endorse our call for a public inquiry into the manner in which investigations from the Troubles era were carried out. As stated to this committee in 2015 while victims were not consulted on the Good Friday Agreement and had no voice in the process, we accept, as democrats, the conditions laid out in the Agreement and what they require should there be convictions in cases that are relevant to them. This group is founded on the principal of not seeking revenge. However, our group continues to seek assurances from Government that all historical cases will continue to be vigorously investigated and prosecuted, especially as many of the victims were in the service of the State and murdered in the line of duty.
I turn to support and services. As we explained to the committee in 2015, victims of terrorism have had to deal with many issues in their lives with zero support from our Government. These issues are ongoing and affect us every day of our lives. They range from post-traumatic stress to anxiousness, panic, fear, alcoholism, mental illness, marriage break-up, and poor education outcomes. As many of these problems only come to light years after the initial trauma, the Government needs to put a structured set of supports in place for victims and survivors. We are aware that, through the reconciliation fund, the Government supports victims and survivors in Northern Ireland and we hope for parity of esteem with those groups. Supports should be centred on counselling and therapeutic needs, education needs, respite needs and supports to help victims aid the reconciliation and healing process. Our group met with officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and presented the case for such supports to them. To say that we were disappointed with the response would be an understatement. We were informed that as part of the Good Friday Agreement negotiations that there was, purposely, no provision made for Southern victims to have funding made available to them. The rationale for this, we were told, was that we could "go to the HSE" for any support that was required. Not only is this in-built level of discrimination unacceptable, it says, in effect, to Southern victims and survivors that our suffering is somehow worth less or not on a par with that of those in the North. I suggested to the committee in 2015 that it would benefit from hearing the personal testimonies of some victims as it would help inform members of the needs and supports required. Again, I invite the members to arrange for this to take place. Our group is yet again calling on the Irish Government to establish a victims forum similar to that in Northern Ireland and to end the practice of discrimination in relation to supports by opening up discussions with us on how to best achieve this support. We ask this committee to actively support us in this regard.
I turn to remembrance and recognition. Since our group last gave evidence to the committee, I am pleased to say that there has been some small progress in the area of remembrance and recognition. I am glad to be able to inform the committee that the relatives of Garda Michael Clerkin are to be presented with a posthumous Scott Medal on his behalf. His colleagues who were injured in the same heinous attack by the IRA will be similarly honoured at a ceremony in December. During the Troubles, 12 gardaí, one member of the Defence Forces and one member of the Prison Servicewere murdered while defending our State. Many civilians, such as the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, and individuals, such as Senator Billy Fox and Tom Oliver in County Louth, had their lives ended by acts of terrorism. Our group is aware that many members of our security forces who served during the Troubles are now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. For the victims' families and for survivors, remembrance and recognition are very important but we have very often had to remember in a private an isolated fashion. As I previously remarked to this committee in 2015, recognising and remembering all victims and survivors equally is something the State has failed to do. Our suggestions seemed to meet with general approval when they were put to the committee in 2015 and we ask again for the committee's support in calling on the Government to award special service medals to all members of the State forces who served during the Troubles; award bravery medals to members of the State forces murdered in the line of duty, where it is not already done; open discussions with civilian victims on how to best recognise their loss or harm; reopen the Remembrance Commission; and create one national memorial for all innocent victims and members of the State forces murdered during the Troubles, at which an annual memorial service could be held.
On behalf of the Independent Victims and Survivors Coalition, I thank the committee for giving us this opportunity to address how the legacy of the Troubles has impacted and continues to impact on us. For too long, the perceived focus of the peace process has been on the perpetrators. The time has come to change this so that the focus is on the innocent victims and those who risked their lives upholding the rule of law and preserving society. We ask the committee to support our suggestions and recommendations as to how our specific needs can be dealt with in the areas of truth recovery, justice, support services, and recognition and remembrance.
Mr. Kenny Donaldson:
I thank the committee for the invitation today, which we appreciate. Innocent Victims United, IVU, is an umbrella organisation for 23 groups which have a collective membership in excess of 11,500 individual victims and survivors. The organisation was formed in 2012 as a movement to offer a cohesive voice to the innocent victims and survivors of terrorism and other Troubles-related violence. The organisation's status is voluntary and its membership spans Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Great Britain and mainland Europe. The organisation has a clear position on terrorism and violence. It stands on the solid legal and moral foundation that in the context of Northern Ireland that there was not and is not a justification for the criminal taking of life in either the advancement or defence of a political objective. IVU is non-sectarian and non-political and seeks to offer a robust challenge and independent voice in holding terrorism and its proponents and apologists accountable. We also engage robustly with Governments, policy-makers and other stakeholders who engage with victim and survivor issues.
The cry coming from large sections of wider society today is that victims and survivors should and must move on. While victims and survivors are often characterised as anti-peace and anti-progress, is this really the case?
We would argue that when these matters are scrutinised it is victims and survivors who have given more than any other constituency in the quest for a lasting peace to be possible in this land we all inhabit. The expression "dealing with the past" is insulting to victims and survivors who are in fact pleading with Government and wider society to deal with their present so that they may have the means to move forward with their lives and start actually living again as opposed to simply existing again.
The burdens that victims and survivors are asked to carry include the burden of the immediate loss of a loved one through terrorism or other criminal actions committed by individual members of the security forces, or the physical and/or psychological damage caused by such acts; the burden of injustice,where limited numbers of perpetrators have been held accountable for their crimes and where states and others have failed to provide adequately for those who have suffered grievous damage, be it physical or psychological; and the burden of forgiveness,where large sections of the establishment and of the general population demand and expect victims and survivors to unconditionally forgive those who have grievously wronged them and that this should be in the absence of remorse, repentance and restitution being demonstrated by those who inflicted the wrong. In each of these instances the victims and survivors were and are being treated as collateral damage so that wider society might benefit from the supposed peace dividend brought about through a decrease in violence on our streets.
The Stormont House Agreement claimed to pave a way for difficult issues around the Troubles to be advanced. A suite of institutions were and are being proposed including the historical investigations unit, HIU; the independent commission for information retrieval, ICIR; the oral history archive; and the implementation and reconciliation group. There are other statements of intent to establish a mental health trauma service and a pension for the seriously injured.
We have consistently stated that any new process must contain the following: a commitment from all to work to ensure that the violence of the Troubles period never be repeated; more importantly, that it be recognised by all, including both the proscribed terror organisations and the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, that in the context of Northern Ireland and irrespective of real or perceived grievances, there was never any justification for the criminal taking of life in the advancement of or defence of a political objective; a victim-centred approach, whereby the needs of victims and survivors are, belatedly, put front and centre of proceedings and that we move beyond an appeasement process of perpetrators; and an open and transparent public debate on what constitutes a victim or survivor in the context of the Northern Ireland Troubles. The current definition of the term "victim" is at the centre of the abyss into which these issues have fallen. Innocent Victims United has engaged with victims groups; individual victims and survivors; church leaders; political leaders; academics; the GAA; the Orange Order; and with a plethora of other community and voluntary sector based organisations. There was universal recognition in those discussions that the current definition of ‘victim’ as laid out in the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 is morally defunct. The definition of ‘victim’ is at the very core of the failed policies which have been developed on victims and survivors issues. There must be a genuine pathway for victims and survivors to pursue justice, truth and accountability whether they are victims of terrorism or of actions committed by individual members of the security forces, and there must be the means for real outcomes to be delivered. Steps must be taken by both the UK and Republic of Ireland Governments to send out clearly a message that no-one is beyond the reaches of the law and no-one is protected. This means, for example, the legal rescinding of letters of comfort provided to approximately 200 Republicans.Legislation must also be introduced by both the UK and Republic of Ireland Governments which commits each state to providing full disclosure and full co-operation around matters concerning Troubles-related events and crimes. There must also be equitable access to support services for victims and survivors wherever they happen to live across the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. This requires a collaborative approach from Dublin, London and Belfast as well as the adequate resourcing of future service provision across the areas of health and well-being; advocacy; welfare; compensation; restitution-based packages and so forth.
I will now move on to outline our specific concerns with the new historical investigations unit, HIU, proposed in the Stormont House Agreement. We have concerns, for example, on the issue of equality. As we understand it, it is currently proposed that only those cases where no Historical Enquiries Team, HET, review was conducted will automatically have an entitlement to a HIU investigation and that those cases which have had a review may only have access to an HIU investigation on the basis of new evidence emerging. This is not equality-compliant and is causing substantive frustration and hurt amongst the victim and survivor constituency. We submit that thismust be resolved. There is also inequality around access to information files. Presuming that there is full disclosure and full co-operation from both the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland Governments, factoring in national security considerations, we have concerns as to how terrorist organisations will be compelled to provide information, given that they do not hold files or documents to make available for interrogation.
There are also governance issues here. How will this new unit interfaces with the Policing Board given the significant conflict of interest that one particular political party has with legacy-related issues? I speak of course of Sinn Féin and the IRA. We have further concerns over other matters of appointment and oversight, the details of which remain unclear to us.
Turning again to the issue of what is termed "on the runs", or OTRs, and the Royal prerogatives of mercy, unless and until these issues are resolved through the legal rescinding of previous assurances given, we see little value in supporting an agreement which leaves victims and survivors entirely in the dark as to the remaining opportunities for justice. Why would we encourage families to engage with HIU or ICIR processes unless it is made legally clear and transparent by both Governments that no-one is immune from prosecution?
With regard to the ICIR, there is significant apprehension within the IVU constituency concerning the proposed ICIR process and we have deep concerns on how information provided can be tested and/or verified. We also have concerns around information leaks which could potentially prejudice a future criminal prosecution. Critically however, we do not see evidence of the goodwill which would be necessary to convince innocent victims and survivors of terrorism that the proscribed terrorist organisations actually wish to deal honourably with these matters.
In respect of the oral history archive, we acknowledge the need for personal testimony and accounts to be facilitated but we have also lobbied for and continue to insist upon the need for a commission of historical clarification. There is a need for the development of a process which examines Troubles-related events critically and which distinguishes between events proven on an evidential basis and those relying upon intelligence, rumour and supposition reasoning.
With regard to reparations and pensions for the injured, terrorist organisations took the decision to go out and murder and maim and also to destroy commerce. In doing so they inflicted serious disablement to members of our community. Through their political voices these organisations are now seeking to prevent the innocent from receiving lifeline financial support and stability because these organisations continue to subscribe to a selfish ideology rooted in the philosophy of "ourselves alone".The contentious political issue of terrorists receiving the pension needs to be taken off the table, either through politicians having the courage to rule it out outright or through the development of an appeals mechanism similar to what was devised in the Stormont special advisors, SPAD, Bill. Those who hold a conviction for serious crimes would thus be required to go through such a mechanism.
We argue that reparations also need to be resolved for the following groups: the immediately bereaved or next of kin; those who have been displaced or, in the case of parts of Fermanagh and Castlederg, ethnically cleansed; and the victims of Gaddafi and Provisional IRA terrorism. Additional work is also needed to examine a reparation case for those who have been psychologically injured.
I will conclude by discussing the forerunner to the work of the implementation and reconciliation group. We in the IVU demand that the Governments responsible for stewardship of the peace and political processes recommit themselves to the principles of justice, truth and accountability, and that they will without fear or fervour support the innocent victims and survivors of terrorism and other Troubles-related violence in their quest to obtain answers. Society must be embedded with a mind-set that when one neighbour wrongs another they are required to engage in a process of what may be terms "3 Rs", that is, that they demonstrate remorse; that they show repentance; and that they engage in restitutive acts. After these processes have been worked through, individual and societal reconciliation will then be possible.Without this, we will continue with our current state of phoney peace.
Ms Barbara Walshe:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to speak about the experience and work of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation on legacy issues on the island of Ireland.
Una O'Higgins O'Malley was one of the founders and drivers of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, which was established in early 1970s as a response to the outbreak of conflict in Northern Ireland. Described as a quiet, ladylike but resolute woman, her life was shaped by a bitter destructive Civil War that in many ways has shaped politics and life on the island for almost 100 years. Her life and energy, however, were devoted to the building of relationships across and between traditions throughout the island through the establishment with others of the only peace centre in the South of Ireland with over 40 years of conflict in its own back yard.
Ms O'Higgins O'Malley's father was Minister for Justice in the first Government after partition and was shot dead in 1927 on his way to mass by the "other side". She reported in a radio interview in 2005, two years before she died, that the loss of her father had a profound impact on her life, one that made her particularly sensitive to the impact of violence on children.
In an interview to mark her 75th birthday, she told The Irish Timesshe only once nearly succumbed to bitterness when she discovered the killer's claim that he had danced on her father's grave, and she said:
I got seized with this awful, awful unforgiving cloud, that I hadn't ever felt as badly before. I couldn't stop it, it was like this lava pouring from a volcano ... I had so often gone to that grave. That happened on Holy Thursday and I thought, 'So much for Holy Thursday and Jesus Christ and all that'. I wanted to throw the whole thing out there and then. But on Good Friday, I made my way back to the church somehow and as I put my foot on the church porch, I had this thought: 'Have a Mass said for them all'. And that was when I felt normal again ..."
So it happened that 60 years after the murder of Kevin O'Higgins, his daughter arranged a memorial mass in Booterstown church, here in Dublin, for him and his killers. Her response to his murder or execution, although she admits that living with the loss was very hard to bear at times, was to call the sons and daughters of a bitter Civil War to dialogue. She devoted her life to calling the enemies or protagonists together and to the creation and repairing of fractured relationships across this island.
In a recent publication, aptly called Wounds, BBC foreign correspondent Fergal Keane uses his experiences of civil war to write about the impact in north Kerry, where his people come from. It examines the brutality of "cogadh na mbráithre", the fight or war between brothers, and "how the ghosts of the past return to shape the present as acts of killings reverberate through the generations."
One hundred years on, we have lived a mostly peaceful life in the South of Ireland, although there have been traumatic and violent attacks on this side of the Border. We have often ignored Northern Ireland as having nothing to do with us. We are, however, deeply entwined - historically, politically, economically and emotionally. The story of those in the North is our story too; our legacy is their legacy too. There is no single story. What we do know is that the ghosts of the past will return if we do not heal the wounds of violence in this generation. The Civil War generation chose not to address the impact of the violence and opted for amnesia, passing the responsibility to a later generation. Are we up for it or mature enough here in the South over the next five years to talk about the unacknowledged hurt of those years?
Our centre's work has always been to deepen reconciliation across and between those on the island. The strategic objective for the next ten years is to work in this regard. Our work is done in facilitating dialogue, sharing learning and building capacity, promoting relationships and networks, and encouraging public discourse. Hospitality underpins that for whoever comes and in whatever way we can offer it.
Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement or Belfast Agreement in 1998, the centre has worked tirelessly to explore the complex legacies and traumas of the conflict, how they can best be addressed and reckoned with, and how those affected can be helped. Our work was done through tough economic times when many said there was no need for it and asked whether there was not now peace and whether the conflict was not now over.What we knew, of course, is that Northern Ireland was in recovery and that, like any society that had experienced trauma, including our own earlier, it would take time to recover, regardless of the rhetoric and the peace talk. That is why Glencree is encouraging the current generations on all sides who experienced the violence of the Troubles to hear the stories of victims and survivors so violence will never again be used to achieve ethnic political objectives.
Two years ago, in the absence of the legacy arrangements of the Stormont House Agreement being put in place, we started an intercommunal project from the bottom up whereby the stories could be heard in Glencree's large circle by the other side. We are very pleased that the EU PEACE IV programme has acknowledged that work and will allow us to continue with it in a more systematic way over the next four years. Through a process of private and confidential facilitated dialogues, it will examine themes and issues that remain as obstacles to deeper understanding and the promotion of positive relations.
No words I can use here today will help members understand the experience and power of people being able to talk about what happened to them and then hear what happened to others. Black-and-white accounts of narratives turn to shades of grey as people start to walk in the shoes of the others and see another perspective. It is never comfortable or easy. We hope the learning accrued through the project will be of assistance to victims' and survivors' groups, interest groups and academics. The programme will also have a very strong women-led process because we have recognised over the years that we have worked that women sometimes carry a double burden in the midst of conflict. They sometimes have to care for their children in the midst of conflict and make sure there is enough food on the table that their families are kept safe.
What is needed? It has been said here before that support is needed for direct victims of the conflict to make sense of and meaning from what happened and how it all happened, and determine what questions were left unanswered as a result of what happened. Victims of the conflict have been forced to carry the burden of the peace process and are often ignored and made to carry a burden of guilt for not being able to get over it in the "we need to move on" narrative.
Support is also needed to deal with the embedded post-traumatic stress in individuals and communities that has manifested itself in mental health issues. Over 3,000 suicides, three quarters male, were recorded between the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and 2014. This is almost the same number as the number directly killed in the conflict in the previous 25 to 30 years. This is often from the unhealed emotional injury that is best worked through by the acknowledgment of the hurt.
Glencree works with women in tough working-class communities to develop leadership. As I stated, women carry a double burden in conflict. They come from a patriarchal society that is economically and educationally disadvantaged and are trying to care for a family and keep them safe.
Young people, like all young people, sometimes struggle with a sense of wanting to understand what happened while many do not want to know anything about the past. Others are held in the past by a sense that if they move forward, they will be at some level betraying their parents or community. As we now know, many are carrying intergenerational trauma.
What have we learned? We have learned that victims have different needs. These can include the need for recognition and for their suffering and pain to be acknowledged publicly or privately, or both, by those who caused it or by those in power, be it the state, judiciary, political establishment or church. They want truth, which means hearing the truth of what happened, regardless of whether it is too late for the punishment of those who perpetrated it. Compensation is often a matter of money or other things. Relationships are so important because they are fractured. For a long period, we have turned our backs on each other. I refer to this State and the Northern Ireland state. The quality and presence of relationships and a sense that there is a place for everybody on this island need to be spoken about in a spirit of generosity, genuineness and service.
It is a matter of using dialogue to have difficult conversations.
What dialogue means is increasing the flow of understanding between people. It enables people to stop rivalling and competing with each other, where all in the room feel safe to speak, are respectful of others and are heard without judgment, creating the conditions that enable people to find meaning.
Language also is heard and understood differently in different traditions. We need to watch our language because our language can be used as a weapon to inflame and denigrate and it also can be used in a supportive way.
The Good Friday Agreement and Belfast Agreement addressed many things. One can be Irish or British, or both, or have multiple identities. However, the acknowledgement of the hurt caused on all sides is not embedded in the text nor a stated commitment to develop, create and recreate fractured relationships at all levels on this island, political, social, and economic, that will enable not just a tolerated coexistence between all of us but a genuine set of relationships that will last into the future that we will be able to give to our children, and now, for some of us, our grandchildren.
In conclusion, I want to say that 20 years ago the Good Friday Agreement did not provide for a healing process. It provided for many things but not for that. There is an urgency for the Stormont House arrangements and the three designated units for a five-year period to be put in place as soon as possible before it is too late for this generation. If political agreement is not possible, then the moneys allocated for the Stormont House Agreement need to be made available to bottom-up processes by reconciliation groups and civil society organisations and churches.
Lastly, we must ensure that the legacy of the past is not another stage to play out tired, repetitive and old worn-out arguments that were neither won nor settled conflicts 30, 40, 100 or 50 years. There must be another way, and Glencree knows that there is.
Thank you, Ms Walshe, and I thank all the groups who have come in to testify today. I will open up to questions now in groups of three. It is up to each group to decide who answers.
I call Senator Feighan.
I thank the witnesses for their very powerful and informative submissions. I am conscious that a lot of people want to ask questions so I will try to be as quick as possible.
Mr. Stack stated that when he was here in 2015 that we wanted to call the former Attorney General, Michael McDowell, into the committee. That has not happened yet. I would propose that we write to Senator McDowell, as he is now, to request that he come in and give his views to the committee, if that is possible.
Also, Mr. Stack wanted a full public inquiry into the investigations. I wonder who we could call in. Is there anybody the witness feels we should call into this committee to ask for a full public inquiry, because it obviously has not happened in the last two years. I will let the witness answer in a minute if that is okay.
Mr. Donaldson mentioned words which are very disturbing, "collateral damage". They dehumanise civilians and victims and I find sometimes the victims have been taken for granted and I do not know what we can do about it here. It is an issue that sometimes has been put down on the bottom of the pile when it comes to dealing with issues but I understand Northern Ireland is a very complicated issue.
To Ms Walshe, I want to say that the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation has done amazing work over the years. I did not know the history of Una O'Malley and the setting up of Glencree. From somebody who came from near the Border in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we felt comfortable because the full impact of the Troubles, or whatever we call them, did not impact on us but invariably it did to some degree. I think we are in a much better situation but sometimes people get left behind. I think we need to mobilise more people from the Republic that were affected. Mr. Stack mentioned 12 gardaí, and the prison officer was Mr. Stack's father, and also a member of the Defence Forces as well as the Monaghan and Dublin bombings. Perhaps we should do a lot more including Northern Ireland politicians, Republic of Ireland politicians and also those in Westminster as well. Working together we can see we have a shared history and can do more.
Ironically, the decade of commemorations, which commemorated Home Rule and the Ulster Covenant and the First World War and the Easter Rising, has been a huge success and I think we can learn an awful lot more. It has been a huge success in the last six or seven years. It has been carried out from an historical perspective but I think it has provided a platform where we can move on.
In relation to the Civil War issue, I think we have learned a huge lesson from what went on in the last five or ten years. What can we do as politicians to help? I know where I live people feel that with the Good Friday Agreement being 20 years old that the problems in relation to Northern Ireland are sorted and that it has moved on. It clearly is not, but we are in a much better place. What can we as politicians, who were not as affected, do? Ms Walshe referred to language. I have always found that Northern Ireland politicians, because they were at the coalface, use the right political language whereas sometimes down here in the Republic we do not use the right political language. It can be hurtful. I just want to ask those questions and once again thank all of the witnesses.
I would like to thank the three groups for their presentations. I was taken very much by the use of the words "legacy of the present". It is where we are, and I hate that phrase, "where we are is where we are", but the words "dialogue", "support" and "are we up for it" were the issues I took from the presentations. Certainly I am up for it and I think this committee should be up to ensure that those legacies of the present are addressed.
The questions centre around the issue of truth recovery, justice, support services and remembrance and recognition, in addition to the items mentioned by Glencree. They all fit in and intertwine with one another. Mr. Stack in his presentation spoke about informal justice as a way to deliver truth recovery. Can he explain what a victim-centred process would look like? Would this include amnesties? Mr. Stack also said that the victims and survivors have very little confidence in former terrorists having the incentive to tell the truth. Can he explain why he thinks this is?
In relation to the justice issue, the witness said that there appears to be gross mismanagement of many of the investigations relating to the crimes from the Troubles. Could Mr. Stack tell the committee about this? I might come back on some other issues later.
I was very moved by the witnesses who came here today and the fact that they are in every respect innocent of being involved in any of the criminal matters which impinged on them in terms of the injury and deaths to their families. It is very disturbing in many respects. If we could put ourselves in the witnesses' and their families' position, and how they feel, I agree with them in everything that they are saying. I live in a Border county and I acknowledge all the trouble there has been in the county. The witness mentioned Mr. Tom Oliver, Ms Jean McConville, and three members of the gardaí, including Sergeant Morrissey, who were murdered. Sergeant Morrissey lived in my own town. I can understand and appreciate fully the trauma and the upset and the never-ending questioning and seeking for justice which the witnesses want. The witnesses made a number of different proposals and I do not disagree with any of them. I would hope that we as a committee could go forward together on all of them and approach the Taoiseach and, if necessary, put a motion before the Houses of the Oireachtas so that the objectives that were outlined by the witnesses would be met.
I would support such a move. The innocent suffer as a result of all of this. One's rights should be totally vindicated and I fully support the witnesses in their requests. I hope that whatever can be done by the committee will be done and that consensus can be reached by the Government and the leaders of all parties because that is the least the witnesses are entitled to.
Mr. Austin Stack:
I will deal with Senator Feighan's question first, which is similar to one asked of me by Deputy Breathnach and relates to public inquiries into the mismanagement of some cases. There has been much mismanagement of the investigations of cases, in particular those from 1980 to 1985. Such mismanagement centres around issues such as critical witnesses not being questioned and evidence going missing, which seem to go hand in hand in this regard. There were very similar issues involving witnesses not being questioned and evidence going missing in the case of my father, that of Mr. Kelly's father, and other cases involving people in our group. We are quite forthright about looking for a public inquiry in that regard. It is not simply explained by poor Garda practices at the time, although that is what we have been told. We were told the fingerprint archive in Santry was flooded and fingerprints were washed away. We then asked the Garda if it had the original material evidence off which the fingerprints were taken and were told it had been lost. That is the sort of barrier that has been put in our way.
If one looks for the log book of where that evidence went and who the last person to have it was, one is told the Garda has the log book and knows where it last was but it is not where it is supposed to be. That is not down to poor Garda practice at the time. Our group believes there was something untoward going on. We believe it is confined to a very specific period of time. In 2015, when I last gave evidence before the committee, I pointed out that in his book Deputy Ferris thanked certain members of the Prison Service in particular for help they gave him. That is the sort of thing with which we are faced. There was a very small minority within the Garda Síochána and the Prison Service who aided and abetted the IRA at the time. We need to tease those matters out in a full public inquiry.
Deputy Breathnach asked what form a victim-centred peace process or true recovery process would take. I have spoken to many people on that issue and discussed it with the leader of the Provisional movement, Deputy Adams. He was quite adamant that there had to be amnesties at the start of the process or else he could not bring his people on board. I was quite forthright with him that the victims are prepared to enter into informal justice and truth recovery if the process is done right. There should be a commission attended by the victims and the perpetrators. There would be privilege over what is said therein and one could not be charged or prosecuted over what is divulged. At the end of the process, if the families felt they had been dealt with in a truthful and honest fashion, they could then recommend that there be an amnesty. When we tried to do an informal process, I had to bring my family with me on it because we were kind of split as a family. I said to Deputy Adams at the start of the process that if at the end of the process my family felt we had been dealt with in a 100% truthful fashion, we would be prepared to state that we did not want prosecutions to result.
We went into that process and were not dealt with in an honest fashion. We were told about 70% of the truth. The 30% we were not told involved the sanctioning of the operation and we could not be told about it because it leads back to quite senior people in Sinn Féin. My view on this is quite simple. A victim-centred process allows the victim and perpetrator to sit down to discuss what has happened and to come to an arrangement that would help aid reconciliation and the healing process. If the victims feel they have been told the truth, they can recommend to the commission that there be an amnesty or no charges. That is a very fair proposal. There can be no prosecutions about what is held within the process.
Deputy Breathnach asked about there being little incentive to tell the truth. From the research I conducted, and focus groups in particular, it was evident that people were very concerned about truth and felt that the former terrorists would have very little incentive to tell the truth. There are a couple of reasons for that and both boil down to the cosy and secret deals that were done behind the scenes at the time of the Good Friday Agreement. Those deals include the on-the-run letters and the statement made by Senator Michael McDowell regarding the Garda not pursuing historical crimes committed during the Troubles. It is very hard for victims to accept that our suffering and the crimes committed on us by terrorists would not be investigated. If one considers it from our perspective, it means the terrorists have got off scot free and there is no incentive for them to tell the truth if they know they will never be charged, they have the on-the-run letters and, according to Senator McDowell's statement, the Garda will not prosecute them. Why would they tell the truth if they know they will never have to face up to what they did?
The second strand of that relates to taking responsibility for one's actions. It is clear that the former terrorists will never take responsibility for their actions. Deputy Adams recently described the death of Tom Oliver situation as a political killing. Tom Oliver was murdered in a most heinous fashion by the Provisional IRA and the Provisional movement. That is an undeniable fact. For that to be dressed up as a political killing is disgraceful and for Deputy Adams to say it would be counter-productive to look for prosecutions is unacceptable. The victims perceive that the Provisional movement and the terrorists are never going to tell the truth and that they try to wiggle like a worm at the end of a line to avoid telling it. One can look at what happened when my family and I entered a process with Deputy Adams. We thought we were doing the right thing by having an informal process to try to get answers. When we went to meet the IRA, we were told lies to try to get certain people off the hook. Deputy Adams then went into Dáil Éireann and told untruth after untruth when he made a personal statement. He did that because if he told the truth it would come back to senior people in his organisation.
I am in a difficult situation. Mr. Stack is mentioning people by a particular name and I am trying to be as inclusive as possible. He mentioned Deputy Ferris and his book.
The evidence he gave to the committee at the time was that the book was written about him but he did not stand over its entire contents. We are straying into difficulties with talk of Deputy Adams having made certain comments. I am trying to be fair because that is my responsibility. I am not telling Mr. Stack how to tell his story, but I have a responsibility as Chairman. At the beginning of the meeting, I read a statement regarding the difficulties of naming names or individuals. It might be impossible for Mr. Stack to tell his story without doing so but I ask him to be conscious of the privilege statement I read at the outset.
Mr. Ken Funston:
On collateral damage and how victims are perceived, Ms Walshe summed it up well when she noted how in 1998, the Good Friday Agreement did not provide for a healing process and one has never happened. Victims have never been considered at any stage of the process during the last 20 years. To all intents, victims have been collateral damage within the dirty sectarian squabble that went on here for 30 years, with the security forces of both Governments caught in the middle, trying to manage it. That is the reality. We have been left with tens of thousands of damaged goods, the victims who are struggling to recover from what happened in the past.
Recently, for instance, a prominent member of Sinn Féin did a walkabout in Londonderry with the Taoiseach. The family of the person who that person is alleged to have murdered were traumatised by that taking place, live on television. Afterwards, the Chief Constable of the PSNI made a statement at the Northern Ireland affairs committee in Westminster about why that person had not been arrested. For that evidence, which the family had never been aware of, to emerge in an open forum has retraumatised them. These types of incidents happen daily across Northern Ireland and in the South where the perpetrators of these crimes walk around freely, brazenly admitting to things they did in the past. It is the case that victims are collateral damage and that is unfortunate because society looks at these people as damaged goods who get in the way of the two Governments trying to move on with more important things. A good example of this was a few years ago where victims were at the gates of Hillsborough Castle while the ex-godfathers of crime were being lauded at an event inside. This is where we are coming from, we are on the outside looking in. We are classed as being the ones causing problems rather than the process being victim centred. This is the problem.
Mr. Pat Hynes:
The previous contributions illustrate the type of work in which we are involved, which is extremely difficult and sensitive. For many communities, individuals and families who have been affected by the violence, though the events may have happened 20, 35 or 45 years ago, they are on 20, 35 or 45 minutes ago in their minds. Many members of the committee have played a role in Glencree and have attended our sessions over the years. A consultation paper is being produced at the moment as a consequence of the discussions that have taken place in recent months and weeks in Belfast. I urge the committee to send a message from the Houses of the Oireachtas to get the consultation paper completed and begin a process whereby we can examine these issues. There has been an inordinate delay in attempting to establish a process that would sensitively and carefully go through all these issues and secure for the individuals and communities the acknowledgement that wrong and harm has been done, to secure answers to their questions and then it is hoped, at the conclusion of this process, to secure an apology for the harm done across the island and across the water. This committee and the Houses of the Oireachtas have a role to play here in pushing for a speedy conclusion to the consultation paper which has been in production over recent months, as Deputy O'Dowd noted.
I am trying to look at where we are now. Mr. Donaldson asked if we can deal with the present. My view is that the Good Friday Agreement is rapidly heading for the rocks because we have spent recent years clapping ourselves on the back over the great achievement. It was peace in our time and everyone could sit back and forget about it. Then one meets groups such as those before us who simply cannot forget about it or put it behind them, who have to deal with the legacy which has been left. Many of us have legacy issues. I managed to hide my service in the British army forces for 35 years until I came to the Seanad. Shortly before I took my seat it was exposed across the newspapers and I had to revisit it, including the reasons I left. It is history and I will not revisit it today.
One thing which jumps off the page for me is the reference to innocent victims. I want the witnesses to understand that I am very much on the side of the innocent victims but there are victims on both sides. It is only very recently that I have come to understand the hurt and pain among the innocent victims and the discrimination and rejection among those who participated in the violence that left the hurt and pain among the people who are represented here, and I look towards Mr. Stack and Mr. Kelly in particular. I am acutely aware of what their families have suffered and they are to be commended on what they have done. Their requests are simple, but a truth commission is simple until one asks people to come in and bare their souls on the atrocities which they committed.
I want the witnesses to address something about which I have spoken to Mr. Donaldson in the past. If we managed to get someone to that point where he or she is prepared to admit to having done this, that and the other, how sure can the witnesses be that, on the other side, the innocent victim will accept the evidence that person has given and say that he or she is able to turn the page and move on? No matter how much we might want to move on, turn the page and be able to say that we know what happened and now we are content, it is not that easy. I was confronted with this myself two weeks after I was elected to Seanad Éireann when I was contacted by the garda who had investigated threats that were made to me and my family. He suggested that I might like to know who had been involved in it, and that he had the files if I cared to speak to him about it. I was on my way to do so when I was gripped by fear, and it was real fear.
If I found out who it was and it happened to be a next door neighbour or somebody who lived around the corner from me, how would I cope with it? How would I handle that? I remember the pain they put my mother through. I suddenly thought that I do not want to know but I can understand how the Stack family or Kelly family would want to know. That is perfectly reasonable. If I am the perpetrator, and if I walk into a room, close the door, as Mr. Stack has suggested, sit down and have an honest conversation, at the end of the day, having given it exactly as I know it, can I be sure that Mr. Stack will accept me at my word? Will Mr. Stack say that the perpetrator is holding something back? There would be a tendency to do that. We are all only human.
It is absolutely essential to have a national memorial for people who suffered, both those on the uniformed and non-uniformed sides, since we lost people in uniform, including gardaí, prison officers and members of the Defence Forces. If a person served in Northern Ireland for 13 weeks, he or she would get a general service medal in Northern Ireland and a bar on it each time he or she came back for 13 weeks. We had people in the Republic of Ireland, particularly soldiers and also gardaí, who spent months on the Border, away from their families, and we have airbrushed it out of history. We need something to mark that, such as the national service medal.
The war was a dirty war. It did not just involve Sinn Féin-IRA, as it is referred to in the North of Ireland, though I would prefer to say IRA. It did not just involve the UVF. It also involved security services, including some, as Mr. Stack has said, from the South. There were some who betrayed their uniform and worked with terrorists. Some part of a dirty war has to be just left aside. People just have to put it aside and move on, and that is not easy for any of us. Mr. Stack said that perhaps 80% of people would be prepared to accept truth and reconciliation. What do we do with the other 20% who simply cannot move on from it? That is a danger.
I want to address the other victims, those who committed the atrocities. Some of these people were sucked into the organisations that they represented at such a young age that they thought they were doing the right thing. I am not excusing what they did. A couple of weeks ago, in north Belfast, the issue of the prisoners was brought to my attention. I would have been quite happy for most of them to have been behind bars. As far as I was concerned, they were terrorists, but a situation could arise where a former prisoner is released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and his or her grandchild might be affected. For example, a divorce takes place shortly after the person goes into prison. The divorcee heads off to the UK to start a new life, leaving the former husband behind in prison. She has a child with her, gets married over there, has another relationship and everything is fine. In this case the child joined the Metropolitan Police on an accelerated promotion process. Six months into her job, she was called aside and told that the police did not realise she was the daughter of a prisoner. She was told to hand in her warrant card and that her job was finished. There is a victim who had nothing to do with the Troubles.
Similarly, we met the wife of a former loyalist prisoner. She got her car insurance for £200 sterling. Three months later, she got a call from the insurance company to say it did not realise she was the wife of a prisoner and that her car insurance was now £800. That woman was not involved in any way in terrorism at any stage. She married this man at a later time in his life. When we start to talk and to unravel the issue of victims, there are innocent victims and there are victims. There are victims who were terrorists and victims who have been branded by association. How does the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation unravel that? Of everyone here, the witnesses from it are probably the most neutral. How do they deal with that young woman's career being destroyed or another we were told of who was due to join the Royal Navy and was told not even to bother coming? How do we explain to somebody that his or her life has been destroyed because of something that person knew nothing about? I am interested in how the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation looks at that, and also in Mr. Donaldson's and Mr. Stack's views.
Mr. Francie Molloy:
By some, but most people have learned since then. I welcome all the presentations here today. It is important that this committee hears about the issues. Mr. Kenny Donaldson comes from the unionist perspective and it is important for us to hear that but, unfortunately, we have not had unionist politicians attend this committee. They are invited to attend this committee, as are other MPs.
I come from what is called the murder triangle. Many victims of the situation lived in that area. The triangle went from Pomeroy to Portadown to Loughgall and there were terrible murders there at the time, right across the board. We should recognise that. As Mr. Austin Stack has said, the issue of evidence being destroyed is not unique to the Garda. There are several cases in the North where forensic evidence has been destroyed, lost or tampered with. It is important that people get answers about how that happened. It shows a lack of concern. Some evidence is lost, destroyed or mislaid and there has always been a question about evidence and how it is come about. With DNA being reviewed and renewed, it is very important that we deal with what is factual and what is not.
Sinn Féin has been leading on truth recovery for many years. We wanted a truth and reconciliation commission to be set up in a similar way to South Africa and other countries. Having said that for a number of years, we fell back from that and, with the Stormont House Agreement, saw the opportunities for the truth and reconciliation legacy issues to be dealt with. I know it has been said that it does not beat all the issues, but the problem is that it has been held up by the people who said they wanted to put it through for so long, namely, the British Government, which does not really want all of the truth but just part of it. If we are to have a truth and reconciliation commission, it is important for all of the truth to be available, particularly from those who have the archives and information. We saw it with the Glenanne gang, for example. Much information was stored and whenever people started to recover it, it all disappeared from the books. It is very important for all that information to be open to us.
Are the victims' groups open to all victims who have suffered in different ways or is it limited to certain sides or groups? We had the Eames-Bradley plan as an earlier structure. Much work went into it to try to deliver for the victims. That was knocked back because of the financial issues it raised. Much good work and many good considerations went into the Eames-Bradley plan. The Stormont House Agreement has not yet been implemented.
The resources have not been provided for the inquests. Many families are waiting 40 years for inquests that are being held up because the British Government is refusing to provide the resources for them. We need to find ways of addressing this issue in the context of dealing with legacy issues.
In regard to the Glencree, many years ago I attended a number of discussions on various issues, some of which were heated but always ended in reconciliation. It was an important mechanism which allowed people to engage in discussion. It is perhaps a failing of the Good Friday Agreement that this mechanism was not built into it. The Stormont House Agreement presents an opportunity to deliver on this. I would welcome members' views on how the Stormont House Agreement can be implemented and on how we can secure the release of the money which the British Government committed to providing to allow this process to continue. There is still a need a Glencree-type mechanism. It is important there is a renewed round of negotiations or discussions around the issues that currently exist. This forum is known as the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. All of these issues are holding back implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. If we are to do our job right, the focus must be on implementation of the agreement. As stated, in terms of implementation we are operating on a shoestring budget. Leaving aside how good or bad the mechanism might be, the danger is that if it is lost we will have nothing and thus a vacuum will be created and further problems will arise. I welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues.
In regard to the survey referenced by Mr. Stack, I believe it would be useful for members of the committee to have a copy of it and to know the outcome. As stated by all here today, there are different needs in different communities. Victims have different needs. Some victims want more from the process than others. Some just want the truth and some want justice. This is the case across all of the communities. There are victims on all sides. I knew a young girl named Sheila Campbell who was studying law at Queen's University and was murdered in the company of a Protestant friend in a hotel. Queen's University never even recognised that she was a student because she was a republican. She was a victim.
Ms Karen McAnerney:
In my case, I find the Garda Síochána Ombudsman very difficult to deal with. My case has been ongoing for ten years. I am trying to obtain evidence and facts about my brother's murder. My brother was a civilian. He was a contractor and he was murdered in south Armagh. He was a Catholic. As a family we were non-political. My brother worked in Garda stations and police barracks north and south of the Border. There was a recession at the time and we employed 216 men throughout our companies. My brother, Terence, was an innocent guy. He was a lovely fellow. He did not deserve the death he got. In terms of his case, 16 items have gone missing from a Garda station in Dundalk. I only became aware of that when the HET was investigating the case. I became extremely concerned about where these items had gone and so I involved the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. Ten years down the line, I still do not have any answers. I was brushed off. In the North, the police ombudsman appears more impartial. It is neutral. The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC works hand-in-hand with the Garda, which is a strange set-up. There are some very innocent victims in this situation.
First, I offer my condolences to all here who have lost loved ones. Regardless of how many years have passed I know it is still painful and the grief continues. I also apologise for not being here for the earlier part of the meeting but I had another commitment.
I have heard the witnesses' stories and I am deeply saddened by them. I have some experience in this area. My aunt lived in Lochan Island and I spent many summer holidays there on my way to Rathlin Island where my father came from. I remember the shooting in the pub there. What happened was horrendous. Many innocent people were shot. I believe a documentary will air soon about the collusion between the police and the UVF, which was involved in what happened there. I visited my aunt's grave last summer. There is still an air of sadness in that area. Regardless of how many years have passed communities remain devastated.
Ms Walshe spoke about inter-generational trauma, which is an issue I am particularly interested in. It is an issue about which I know only a little but I am very aware of how trauma is carried on down through generations and how important it is that that trauma is dealt with. I work in the mental health and addiction fields. I have worked with families in the North. We run cross-community and cross Border programmes for families members whose loved ones have mental health and addiction problems. They work very well. We have brought people together who have experienced each others pain. While initially there might be some resistance people eventually break through their pain. When people recognise each others pain and identify with it, it can be very beneficial. Perhaps Ms Walshe would elaborate on that issue.
I apologise for being late. First, to what consultation was Mr. Hynes referring? Second, from a layman's point of view how would Mr. Stack envisage an amnesty would work relative to current legislation? For example, if the person comes through the process and if the family recommends the amnesty would that give rise to a legislative framework which would have to supersede or complement current legislation vis-à-viscriminal law as it stands?
On Glencree, the conclusion is that we must ensure that the legacy of the past is not another stage to play out tired, repetitive and old, worn out arguments. Is there a critique to be had of the Stormont House Agreement as it relates to, for instance, the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval, the oral history archive and the legacy of the past issues? Is there enough within those three proposals as agreed in Stormont to chart a way forward which everybody could potentially buy-into with confidence from a Glencree perspective?
Mr. David Kelly:
I will respond to Senator Craughwell's comments on the potential for a truth recovery commission. I think the potential for healing exists if we talk about people suffering in the present. Even at the end of the process, if the victims are not completely satisfied that it can proceed and the evidence cannot be used in a court of law, the opportunity may exist for them. It may not work. In my case my father was the Irish Army soldier killed in Ballinamore in 1983. The perpetrators were Maze escapees from Belfast and this year, 34 years later, there is no truth, which is very difficult. No support was provided for my family afterwards. It was all downhill. Three years later we were living homeless on the streets of London. That is how significant it is. Talking about women's rights, my mother went through years of domestic abuse. That is how these things play out. I like the sound of a truth commission. It may not work in my case but if it gives anyone peace, closure or healing after such traumatic events in their families' lives it is worth pursuing.
Mr. Austin Stack:
I will just go through the few issues that pertain to me. In response to Senator Craughwell's question about where we find ourselves if the perpetrator comes in and bares his soul but the family does not accept what has been said, I am a restorative justice practitioner. I have been doing it for a long time. Miss Walshe from Glencree and I have been involved in that movement for a long time. We can never guarantee going into that process that everyone will come out hugging and kissing one another. There is a long period of preparation with both parties before that meeting would take place. Both parties would have a good sense of what would play out when it does happen. For example, I facilitated a very difficult restorative meeting recently between two individuals and it took me approximately two months to prepare it, going back and forth. We went into the room with the two individuals. When I went into the room I was still unsure whether the perpetrator was going to make that leap. I knew that the victim was a very strong individual. I facilitated that meeting but I kept going back and all of a sudden the penny dropped and the perpetrator understood because of a remark the victim made that personalised it a little bit. If there is a good facilitator little things can happen in these meetings that can turn them around. One can never be sure that will happen. I propose that we at least try because if we do not try we will never have healing. This is for all of us here in the room, the politicians, the policymakers, the victims and their advocates to at least try.
There was a question about the 28% who cannot move on or do not want to get involved in this process. We need to try to put supports in place for those people such that at some stage down the line they may come around because we are all at different stages on the journey. I can forgive the people who did what they did to my father. I have no problem saying that. I will shake their hands and talk to them. I have forgiveness. I can do that. Some people cannot and never will. It is a journey.
In respect of what Francie Molloy said about our group, we take everybody who we would describe as an innocent from both sides of the political perspective. We are open to people from the Unionist side and the Nationalist side. We will not deal with anyone who was a perpetrator of terrorism. That is our membership. Generally it is people from the South who have come to us.
In response to what Deputy Sherlock said about legislation on how amnesties would work, I would propose that, once the process is finished and the family proposes that the individual be given an amnesty because the individual has dealt with them in an honest, open and truthful fashion, when the chair of the commission makes a report, the legislation could then be formed in some way that closes the matter. The committee members are the legislators and they know best the angles involved in that process. As a simple layman that is what I would propose.
In response to Deputy Breathnach's question about services North and South the difference is stark. We get absolutely no help, aid, support, good, bad or indifferent on this end. We get zero. I went to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and spoke to a high-level delegation on this matter and they told me that when the Good Friday Agreement was being negotiated they specifically left out this element for victims in the South because they said we could go to the Health Service Executive, HSE, for support. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will not fund groups down South. It diverts funds to the groups in the North. The only funding of any description that we get is a very small grant each year from the Victims & Survivors Service in the North. Only recently did people such as the gardaí who were badly injured in the Garryhinch bombing benefit from the scheme whereby injured personnel could get something from the Victims & Survivors Service in the North. Groups down here have been told they need to go to the HSE. That is completely impractical because the HSE is not set up to deal with victims of terrorism. They do not know what is involved. I have seen how groups like South East Fermanagh Foundation, SEFF in the North work. When the group gets together members support and help one another. They are able to identify the services and the needs of their people and bring them to the agencies required. There are between 80 and 90 victims down here, dispersed all over the country and we are told to go to the HSE.
Mr. Kenny Donaldson:
My point is that I am a victims' representative and our organisation has a very clear position on that in terms of who we invite and work with. We have Unionists, Nationalists and neither. We have people from the Protestant and Catholic communities and from none. They are right across the board.
We have been exercised for five years on the point that Mr. Stack raised. In our last presentation to this committee two years ago we were fighting for the rights of Republic of Ireland-based victims along with those based in Great Britain. Within the Stormont House Agreement there is supposed to be a collaborative approach taken by Belfast, Westminster and Dublin except when it comes to the jingoes, the resources, because this side of the Border is not very good at that. There is lip service paid to the issues. There is a need to conduct a deep study and mapping exercise of where victims and survivors are located in the Republic of Ireland as there is to do likewise in Great Britain.
We talk about deaths when we bring it down to those cold, hard percentages. One in six lives lost in the Troubles was of a person associated with Great Britain who was either murdered there or had family members murdered here and who was from Great Britain. Likewise, in the Republic upwards of 90 innocent people lost their lives as a result of the Troubles. That is not insignificant. There is work that needs to be done.
The point concerning what constitutes a victim needs to be addressed. People should take a whistlestop tour back to where this emanated from. No one on this side of the table had a view as to what the definition of victim should be. In 2006 it was ushered through in emergency legislation. That was another side deal agreed at the time which caused damage and harm to people when it was rolled out. A widow once put it to me in these terms: "It is bad enough that my husband was taken. In 1998 I voted for the Belfast Agreement because I wanted a better future for my grandchildren, but eight years later, for those individuals who were released from prison that day to in effect be equated in law alongside my husband was the ultimate betrayal." That issue needs to be considered.
Our organisation has always been very clear that terrible deeds were committed by loyalist terrorists, and there were actions committed by the State which were unforgivable. The Republic of Ireland is no neutral arbitrator in proceedings either. As a representative of a victims group, I have no difficulty in saying that where there was criminal violence committed, whether by the proscribed organisations or indeed by either State, it was illegitimate and wrong. If that was said right across the board we would have the building block to deal with these issues properly. We do not have it because people are still in denial and are trying to justify the indefensible. We need to condemn violence as wrong across the board.
Mr. Ken Funston:
I am keen to know what truth recovery will look like. On one side we have the British and Irish Governments and on the other we have different terrorist groups who could not be classed as honest arbitrators on these matters. The two Governments maintain documents on their actions throughout the Troubles. Terrorist organisations have none. When we enter the truth recovery process we have governments armed with many documents, itemising what each individual did at each time and place on each day, and we have terrorist organisations and individuals who will say everything or nothing and minimise and maximise as suits. I still do not understand how truth recovery can work. Mr. Stack says that we should test it out, but there is no appetite in the North for it, certainly amongst the victims' community.
To add to what Ms McAnerney said on how we can move forward with the Good Friday agreement, we have the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, PONI, which is totally independent and has wide-ranging powers for access to whatever it needs. In the South the ombudsman has to go cap-in-hand to An Garda Síochána to ask for permission to access documents. The Garda can say no or provide everything requested. Ms McAnerney's case is riddled with collusion. The investigation into it has been totally improper because the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC does not have the power to investigate retired police officers. It can make a report with suggestions, which goes back to An Garda Síochána which then investigates its own people. In Ms McAnerney's case bogus gardaí signed for forensic evidence which was never investigated properly. Multiple pieces of forensic evidence went missing, including a vehicle, an anorak with blood, a balaclava and cigarette butts. It goes on and on. Retired gardaí failed to comply or assist with the investigation. There is a case from County Donegal in which there is clear evidence of collusion with An Garda Síochána; a suspect list was handed over to the IRA which resulted in a murder and an attempted murder. These are two of many cases we are dealing with. We need to see honesty from both sides of the Border, not just one side.
Ms Barbara Walshe:
The legacy of the past is really about our future together on this island and how we can learn to live well together as good neighbours, having a decent relationship in which we get to know each other. We do not, generally speaking, know much about each other. We have turned our backs on each other for a long time. While things are difficult at the moment, this committee, our Government and our State should double their efforts to enable us to try to get along together so that we can do more than co-exist.
I am thinking of my grandchildren at the moment. To answer Senator Black's question, inter-generational trauma is no surprise. Parents and grandparents have been traumatised and hurt, and children have seen more than any children should see. New evidence that has been presented recently has shown that trauma that is experienced in earlier generations can cause changes in DNA. It is not just the experience of it and recovery from it. At some level we are fundamentally seeing the world, and the way our bodies and our minds operate. I am not a psychologist, but I do know that.
There is nothing to be gained from throwing two people into a room and asking them to talk to each other. That is a restorative process. There are sometimes too many expectations around something like this. It is not about people reconciling with each other, but rather that questions that people really want answers to are answered. If reconciliation happens as a result of it then that is fair enough, but sometimes it is about the process. It is something that must be managed, resourced and facilitated properly.
The point was made that Glencree should look at restoring the discussions that enabled people to tease out particular problems and issues in a space where not everything has to be attacked and defended. We will take that idea back. We are doing some of the things mentioned already. We only started investigating political stuff recently, but we will think about it.
Mr. Pat Hynes:
It was expected that, given that we had the Stormont House architecture in place, we would have a consultation to see how it could be operationalised. We are still waiting for that consultation process to kick in. It would have provided quite a useful basis for organisations like ours to sit down with some firm proposals and ideas and where there could be much more meaningful dialogue, rather than kicking a ball around an open field. We are hoping that will occur in the not too distant future. Notwithstanding Senator Craughwell's concerns about the future of the agreement, we have to draw breath and pause. The agreement, in its three-stranded approach, was designed and envisaged to repair the broken relationships which gave rise to the conflict across the island - the conflict within Northern Ireland, the conflict between North and South - and the conflict between the two islands was to be repaired in the context of that agreement so that we could work together.
We do not have anything else and, ultimately, we have to continue to deepen the reconciliation and to work towards repairing those relationships. In that context, as highlighted today, we need to look back and address in the most sensitive and best way possible the concerns of the individuals who have been affected, as the committee has heard in the testimony before it.
I was asked what can be done and Mr. Francie Molloy touched on this as well. We regularly get asked what kind of answers people can hope to receive in these dialogues and discussions and we say the quality of the engagement will reflect the depth of the relationship formed. Fundamentally, this comes down to people's willingness to be sensitive and honest and to acknowledge the harm-----
Mr. Pat Hynes:
-----and show courage in the effort to embark on that journey. Peacemaking is a journey. One does not frontload the destination in the first few steps. Start the journey and let the destination take care of itself. In that way, one will test sincerity, that is, whether people are sincere in their efforts to meet the concerns of society and those who may have been harmed as a consequence of what we went through 30 and 40 years ago. As Mr. Molloy has acknowledged, our organisation does not encourage positional debate, which is pointless. In the context of our work, we want to see if we can humanise relationships to a point where people do not feel they have to attack and there is a genuine engagement and recognition that people are coming into a space where they have genuine concerns that must be addressed and genuine questions that have heretofore not been answered.
Finally, I would say to Senator Black that the figure of 4,000 suicides since the signing of the agreement shows the massive impact the conflict has had on Northern Ireland as a society, so there is a huge obligation on committees such as this one and other organisations to be aware of that growing number.
I thank all of today's witnesses. Mr. Hynes noted our responsibility as a committee. We are trying to formulate a report on the issue of victims and legacy issues and it is hoped that some of the issues raised today will form part of the report and its recommendations. I hope the witnesses found the opportunity to give evidence here today useful and I apologise again for the late starting hour of the meeting. I realise the structure itself is probably not great for interaction and so on but it is what we are faced with. I think everyone was impressed with the evidence today. It has given us a lot to think about for the report. If there is anything the witnesses feel they, as a group, may have overlooked here today, please forward it to us and we will include it in the report. I wish the witnesses a safe journey home.