Where is the big idea to deal with a troubled past?

Brian Rowan: Where is the big idea to deal with a troubled past?
The Historical Enquiries Team was set up in September 2005 to investigate more than 3,200 unsolved murders between 1968 and 1998
Belfast Telegraph
04 JULY 2013

When he was here as Chief Constable, Hugh Orde’s idea of an Historical Enquiries Team was not meant as some great answer to the past.

Doing something after decades of conflict, and doing it because there was no other big or small idea.

“It (the HET) was never ever the answer to the past,” Sir Hugh said last night.

“It was only ever going to be a tiny part, but there was nothing else,” he continued, “and, even now, there is not much else.”

Then he asked the question: “Where is Eames-Bradley?”

He means the report published in 2009 containing a detailed set of proposals; a blueprint including a Legacy Commission with investigation and information recovery units.

It was meant to be within this structure that an attempt would be made in a much broader context to try to address many of the unanswered questions.

There was also a recommendation for a Reconciliation Forum.

But the report was dismissed in a furious row over one proposal to make a recognition payment of £12,000 to all families who lost a loved one.

“I am staggered that a report was allowed to be hijacked by one issue with everything else discarded,” Sir Hugh told the Belfast Telegraph.

“I assured Lord Eames and Denis Bradley I would be relaxed, indeed relieved, if they took the Historical Enquiries Team into a wider structure,” Sir Hugh continued.

“That would have increased its independence and transparency.”

In the thinking of the Eames-Bradley report, the work of the HET would have become part of the proposed Investigations Unit inside the suggested Legacy Commission.

But the document and all its suggestions have vanished, gathering dust on some shelf and, more than four years later, there is still no big idea.

“To police the future, you have to deal with the past,” Sir Hugh said.

But almost 20 years after the 1994 ceasefires, there is no plan – no strategy or structure within which questions can be asked and answered.

The past is still playing out on a political battlefield – the peace building and conflict resolution centre at Maze/Long Kesh the stuff of headlines and news almost every day.

Will it or won’t it become a shrine to the 1981 hunger strikers?

As that argument continues the story of the past is large in the present.

It is not yesterday or yesteryear, but today and tomorrow.

So, the challenge is to step off the battlefield, and to think of a structure that can deliver the maximum amount of information and the best possible help to victims.

Within that structure there has to be room for every story to be told and heard.

There is no such thing as one truth.

Maybe the design of such a process is beyond the capabilities of local politicians, and perhaps this will need international help.

But the past isn’t going to go away.