‘Let’s look again at the Eames-Bradley approach to the past’
The Eames-Bradley report was the best approach yet to how Northern Ireland should deal with Troubles legacy issues, argues Mark Durkan. The former SDLP leader and deputy first minister was interviewed for the ‘Forward Together’ podcast series immediately before declaring his candidacy for Fine Gael for the Dublin constituency in the European Parliament elections.
Mark argues that the proposals tabled for the 2013 talks mediated by US envoy Richard Haass were “not as good as Eames-Bradley”. The challenge is also that “different parties are saying different things at different times”, making solutions more difficult. For example, “some parties... say draw a line under the past... and then in the next breath they're demanding pursuit of certain issues”.
He continues: “I don't think we can just simply draw a line under the past, but it's how do we create the situation where we don't endlessly pore over the past, but we don't glibly pass over the past either, because the past leaves a very real sense of grievance for people and not just those people who are directly affected... but also as a society.”
Mark goes on: “Eames-Bradley pointed out that it wouldn't be a case of one size fits all... people have different needs”. In many cases, people need an acknowledgement of what happened and its injustice. “And we should have measures for dealing with the past that facilitate those different ways. We know some people basically just want the truth to be told.” This includes, he argues, for Hansard – the official record of Parliament – to be corrected where government ministers gave an incorrect record of events. “There's some victims of the Troubles for whom the official record still suggest that they somehow contributed to their death, or holds them under some sort of suspicion”.
While the discussion over the constitutional arrangements for Northern Ireland cannot be ignored “what we need to do is get to a position where we can have an honest debate about honest differences over honest preferences as to whether it's United Kingdom or United Ireland as the best context for us,” says Durkan.
Mark also calls for a recognition that Northern Ireland needs to recreate a stronger civic society. “We need to recognise first of all that civil society has made significant contributions during the life of the peace process,” he says. “When we negotiated the [Good Friday] Agreement one of the reasons why we had a Civic Forum as part of the institutions was because we wanted to continue to harness that value and that insight”. Nor does he believe it was right for the Civic Forum to cease operating. “The Civic Forum didn't collapse: the Civic Forum became a casualty of suspension. There was nothing in the Agreement that said it should be a casualty of suspension and some of us argued at the time that the Civic Forum should be maintained even though the assembly was suspended”.
He adds: “I suppose we have the experience since then of seeing citizens’ assemblies and operations in a number of places, not least in the south... So yes we can look to try to refocus, to reach something along the lines of the original Civic Forum, but I think even if we do that, that could be complemented by - or indeed that could commission - various citizens’ assemblies. One of the risks with the Civic Forum is that basically it becomes a representative body of the main political parties, rather than actually taking people from broader society.”
Holywell Trust receives support for the The Forward Together Podcast through the Media Grant Scheme, Core Funding Programme of Community Relations Council and Good Relations Core Funding Programme of Derry City and Strabane District Council.