Press Release 8 March 2013
The Consultative Group on the Past report and its recommendations for dealing with the past, were too soon for a society still raw and emerging from the conflict Lord Robin Eames has said.
Speaking during a conference organised by Ashton Community Trust as part of the 2013 North Belfast Respect Programme on Monday March 4, the former co-chair of the CGP group said perhaps now was the time for the 2009 report to be revisited.
“Perhaps we were too soon. Perhaps we were too raw to read what it had to say but we said what we had to say to force and compel others to take it on and deal with it in their own way,” he said.
“The real scar of Northern Ireland is the victims. The report contains 32 recommendations, and I remain personally committed to those recommendations and I still believe that those recommendations contain a blueprint [for dealing with the past] – it’s not perfect and it’s not complete but I think that it has something to say to each and every one of us.”
The Dealing with the Past: Dig Where You Stand conference at Belfast Castle, organised by Ashton Community Trust through its Bridge of Hope programme, involved Reverend Robin Eames, Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone, Director of Transitional Justice Institute (TJI) Bill Rolston and TJI Associate Eilish Rooney. It was chaired by human rights activist Maggie Beirne and also addressed by Bridge of Hope development worker Áine Magee.
The CGP report was a massive missed opportunity Bill Rolston added.
“We do need a truth recovery mechanism here, as long as the majority of people agree on what that this for two reasons. One is to smash impunity and the second is because victims need it. All victims have questions and they will vary, but at the very least, they all want to know something.”
Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone said she was preparing to meet the First and Deputy First Minister in June with the Victims and Survivors Forum to discuss their emerging findings in relation to dealing with the past and other associated victims related issues.
“We have to help people heal their future. They must not be scarred by the past, they have to be marked by hope.”
She emphasised that victims who had suffered and lost so much, did not want a line drawn under the past.
“Victims and survivors deserve our best efforts, you have to see the world through their eyes. Every part of your present is profoundly affected. You are dealing with the past and the past is your present.”
Eilish Rooney author of Bridge of Hope’s academic report and Senior Lecturer, School of Sociology and Applied Social Studies at UU and Associate of TJI, explained that this kind of legacy work would take significant efforts and input by many.
“Dealing with the past is the work of a lifetime. There is an opportunity to look at the landscape of Northern Ireland and to work towards a more just society. Victims and survivors are central to that endeavour.”
However society is not starting from scratch Eilish added.
“People have been dealing with the past for years. There is a seam of critical experience about how people deal with the past. One example is Bridge of Hope’s Transitional Justice Programme which has had a significant impact and on the lives of those who took part.”
The backdrop of the conference was against comments made by the first Minister Peter Robinson in early 2013 that the past must be dealt with and also in light of a 2012 report from the Community Relations Council which stated that no solution for dealing with our troubled past had yet been found.
“The need for finding a way forward is more urgent than ever,” Head of Victims Services at Ashton Community Trust Irene Sherry said.
“Conversations that focus on dealing with the legacy of the past tend to refer to aspects of transitional justice, which is not a ‘special’ kind of justice, but an approach to achieving justice in times of transition from conflict.
“Ashton through its Bridge of Hope programme is actively engaged in this field of legacy work. Its Transitional Justice Grassroots Programmes are centred on the grounded principle that people living in areas that experienced the worst impacts of the conflict have a vital contribution to make to the civic work of dealing with the past and building justice.
“Our work thus far has revealed a willingness from victims and survivors to engage in hard conversations about what happened in the past but more importantly how does society rebuild after conflict.”
Notes To Editors:
The full 2013 North Belfast Respect Programme is available to download on ashtoncentre.com or Facebook Page North Respect. Updates are available on Twitter @NBRespect. The Programme is organised by Ashton Community Trust and funded mainly by OFMDFM and SEUPB and kindly supported by other organisations including Belfast Strategic Partnership.
Bridge of Hope is a programme of Ashton Community Trust and it works with victims and survivors directly in order to better understand the legacy of the conflict. Over the last 3 years it has developed a specific conflict related body of work called the Transitional Justice Grassroots Programme and to date individuals from Falls, Shankill, Mount Vernon, Tigers Bay and New Lodge have taken part. A report and toolkit about these interventions are available online at www.thebridgeofhope.org
Bridge of Hope’s bespoke programme is centred on the grounded principle that people living in areas that experienced the worst impacts of the conflict have a vital contribution to make to the civic work of dealing with the past and building justice. Director of TJI at the University of Ulster Professor Bill Rolston in his foreword to Bridge of Hope’s 2012 report that was written by Eilish Rooney stated that our programme formed the basis for ‘moving forward in the process of conflict transformation in North Belfast’.