After a decade-plus of consultation, negotiation, reports, recommendations, agreements and disagreements, 100 days feel like no time at all.
Yet, within that calendar frame, we may be entering the most important phase in the legacy debate; at last, some deciding moment on what to do or not to do about our Past.
This deadline emerged in the governments’ text released by Secretary of State Julian Smith and Tanaiste Simon Coveney in that dramatic news conference on Stormont’s hill on January 9th; the beginning of putting our politics back together again.
You read to page 48 in the New Decade, New Approach document before you find the above paragraph, pointing to an intensive process involving the UK Government, the Northern Ireland parties and the Irish Government as appropriate.
Then, within 100 days, it’s decision time.
THE SAME WHEEL THAT JUST WON’T TURN
After a decade and more of arguments, we know that there is nothing as straightforward or as uncomplicated when it comes to legacy.
Ask Eames/Bradley, Haass/O’Sullivan or those involved in the making of the Stormont House Agreement more than five years ago.
None of those reports have been implemented.
All of them are similarly designed – investigations, information-recovery, story-telling/archive and reconciliation; the same wheel that just won’t turn.
Legacy has been, and is, stuck in the political mud.
That decade or so of trying to do something has achieved nothing; the lesson, therefore, must be to use these 100 days to think and to do things differently.
HOW DOES A PAST PROCESS FIT WITH A PEACE PROCESS?
This is the question we need to address and answer; a question that up to now has been ignored.
Think of the ceasefires.
Would they have been declared if it had been known then that decades later some new investigations process would be initiated – the proposed Historical Investigations Unit?
Why release prisoners, close jails, allow for the decommissioning of arms without forensic testing and set up a mechanism of protected information to help recover the remains of ‘the disappeared’?
These things were types of amnesty and done to confirm that the wars were over.
A new investigations process, that could potentially create prisoners, re-opens the Past. It means we double-back into the conflict period, and for what purpose?
To send a few more people to jail. None of that heals or addresses the Past. It is scapegoating.
In these 100 days identified in the New Decade, New Approach document we need to begin to find a way that works – something new that fits with the title and the ambition of that text; think outside the box – not get lost inside it.
In June 2018, on this website, Tom Roberts director of the loyalist Ex-Prisoners Interpretative Centre (EPIC) wrote: “The removal of politicians and their narrow and constricted political agendas is vital if we are to develop a non-partisan and inclusive legacy process.”
He is right.
This process has been far too political. It is why it has failed and failed again and again.
These 100 days should be used to work out how you achieve maximum information from all sides, to agree the processes to deliver practical help and to shape some vision of hope and reconciliation; a process that is about healing – not politics and not prison.
It needs someone from outside of us to do that, or, stubbornly, we can stick with that wheel that won’t turn – and remain lost in the Past.