‘Hype and headlines will not help the victims of the past’ argues Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice

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Manufactured indignation and outrage within sections of the ‘victim community’ is probably the best way to describe the Belfast Telegraph report on a document concerning ongoing talks around dealing with the past. And of course following the natural trend the story continues into the airwaves.

For a tiny minority of bereaved and injured nothing short of a pound of flesh from a lynching mob will suffice even though some have already had prosecutions and convictions. The same is true of some of those within the victim sector that are really using their position for political ambition, hence much of the vitriol.

This singular view oftentimes tends to dominate media headlines here; some editorial agendas manipulating and eliciting the desired outcome of outrage. For example the alternative critique offered in response by Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Center on Nolan never made the headline news.

It’s quite easy. Let me explain. On the day the report of the Consultative Group on the Past, Eames/Bradley, was published only one of the 31 recommendations really featured in the media; the Acknowledgement Payment.

A newseditor and journalist joked as they revealed how after telling a victims campaigner that the families of IRA Volunteers killed at Loughgall would each receive a payment he was racing to the studio like Yosemite Sam.

The reporting of that singular issue and of how it was similarly manufactured is one of numerous examples of an all too common headline-grabbing sensationalism, which cares little for those it professes to have ‘sympathy’ for who are at the eye of the media storm. Often it is lazy journalism. Often it is part of wider agenda setting. Often the detail is ignored. Suspicion still exists as to the leaking of that one aspect of the Eames/Bradley recommendations that sounded the inevitable death knell. Eames/Bradley had for some crossed a line in being truly independent and courageous.

There is nothing new at all in the legacy section of the Stormont House Agreement. The same detail and concepts at the core of Eames/Bradley in January 2009, of Haass/O’Sullivan in December 2013, are now within this latest document. It’s just that for many families for which it held hope it’s almost 7 years too late.

All initiatives contained three basic strands; a criminal investigative process into each killing with full police powers through an independent Historical Investigation Unit (HIU), a truth recovery mechanism via an Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR), and a story telling archive element via an Oral History Archive (OHA). Importantly the HIU will examine linked thematic cases.

Generally those bereaved will in all likelihood engage the HIU first. Those looking for information and facts about the killing of a loved one might determine that for them the ICIR is the best route in providing the necessary information. It has always been the very clear understanding that this element of the agreement would not name individuals who approached them or who they approached for information through respective participants to the conflict.

This is no different a practice to any criminal justice process within these islands or any other democracy for that matter whereby an incident cannot be attributed to an individual if there is no evidence by which to hold that person to account within a court of law. It is basic human rights.

The reason why there are different strands is because there is no one size fits all. Some people just want information and others want fuller investigation and possible convictions; hence the HIU. Whilst in the main, participants to the conflict might prefer the ICIR process, the choice is for families. However, the ICIR would provide a form of organizational accountability, which is equally important for families. That is precisely why I recently put the question directly to George Hamilton at Féile An Phobail to publish the Stalker/Sampson and Stevens reports as a means to demonstrating goodwill, trust and confidence in the overall process of dealing with the past.

Take for example the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains (ICLVR) that has been, and is, successfully working with former members of the IRA to locate the bodies of the disappeared. The ICIR is based on the exact same principle.

Of course there are genuine concerns around the modalities and timeframe of how, if a family exhausts the HIU element without a satisfactory outcome, they can then engage the ICIR. But the notion that any process would simply ‘name and shame’ individuals was never an option and nor should it be. We’ve had enough problems with innuendo and speculation by tabloid reporting, which is dangerous enough.

I would be more concerned that an agenda of those who want to keep a lid on their secrets has managed to parallel an agenda of salacious headlining and lazy journalism. We have constant complaint about calls for inquiries and when we near to the implementation of an agreed mechanism for all it’s a case of vicarious complaint about it. Clearly there are those who don’t want the past dealt with at all. An alternative view that properly interrogates and analyses detail often struggles for space in the era of controversial sound-bite. This is too important an issue.

The document revealed by Brian Rowan merits better contextual analysis.

No process is perfect; but this may be best chance for the greater number of families. Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good and of what is possible.

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About Author

Mark is a founder member and the Director of Relatives for Justice. Mark is responsible for the strategic development and management of Relatives for Justice and has overseen the growth of the organisation from a successful and dedicated voluntary campaigning group to the professional advocacy and support organisation that it is today. Mark’s experience in pro-actively holding those responsible to account and in ensuring that the needs and experiences of victims of the conflict are identified and championed makes him one of the most recognisable and respected figures in the debate on how we Deal with the Past. He has make representations on families’ behalf at US Congress and the United Nations as well as to government in both Britain and Ireland.


  1. Ignore Bryson, he hasn’t seen any of the conflict with being in DDee as well as being born in 90 nor did he have anyone close to him murdered. Ignore him about Robinson, someone in the DUP is obviously feeding him info and he knows just as much as the politicians do. Wouldn’t be surprised if Robinson himself is the leak. So don’t be surprised if he is called, if its only to be asked to confirm his name what he knows which is already known. Only reason its big news to some is that this wasn’t in the public domain!

    • Terrorists shouldn’t come under the NI memorial fund, its a disgrace that they’re trying to get them on the same platform as my dad and other victims. If we were in Africa, the British and Irish governments would have slaughtered both Loyalist and Republican terrorists.

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