I want to make clear from the start Mr. Speaker that this motion is not intended to incite party political debate on the detail of our complex past but rather to offer political parties in this Assembly an opportunity to send a clear message that we can at least agree that there is a need to deal with our past and to commit to urgent and inclusive talks in order to progress this important matter.
Nor is it the intention of this motion to debate the pros and cons of every possible framework and mechanism that might be used to help victims and wider society deal with the past but I will take an opportunity to review previous frameworks that have been proposed.
It is now over two years since the consultation on how we as a society might deal with the past.
Since then the Secretary of State Owen Patterson has repeatedly stated that political consensus is needed to progress this issue and that such consensus will be hard to achieve.
I don’t disagree with this analysis but surely a meeting of the political parties in this Assembly would be a start.
The issue of dealing with the past is of course a sensitive and complex matter. It is vital that we recognise and acknowledge the individuals and families in our community experiencing profound suffering and that we meet the needs and rights of these people; but we must also recognise that a failure to deal with this legacy in a comprehensive way risks fueling division and suspicion for generations of our society to come. I am committed to doing all I can to ensure my son doesn’t live in that type of society.
Some people have expressed concern that a comprehensive approach to dealing with the past could actually be counter productive, that political stability and distributing resources for the important challenge of service delivery for victims and survivors is the best outcomes we can hope to achieve.
Now I recognise the validity of these concerns would argue that this approach falls short of an attempt to meet the legitimate expectations of those very victims and survivors.
Others argue as a result of our contested past and contested future that aiming for agreed approach to dealing with the past is naïve.
I think it is important for us to remember that since 2006 the Victims Commission has been exercising a mandate to promote the interests of the bereaved, injured, carers and witnesses of conflict related incidents.
If we can find a way to comprehensively address the civil rights of victims and survivors and deal with our past in a collective manner then maybe we can replace that contested future for a shared and better one.
The current reality is that 30% of our present population consider themselves directly affected by the Troubles, that is 500’000 people.
81% don’t wish for assistance, 19% or 100’000 people are receiving help or would like it.
10% of the current population is bereaved from the troubles, that’s 170’000.
In 2010 research identified 50’000 people in Northern Ireland not in work due to mental disorder.
Now we can debate definitions and we can debate process but in my view the need is clear.
At present we have a fragmented, patchwork approach to recovery and we are responding to issues as they emerge. As a result the past continues at certain intervals to stalk the present and disproportionately affect those communities, which bore the brunt of the conflict.
We need an overarching process capable of addressing the individual needs of families and the wider need for our society deal with the past. It is a moral, social and economic imperative.
Whilst aspects of the recommendations of the Consultative Group on the Past were met with significant objection my party maintains that many of the proposals made by this report provide a basis from which we could consider a comprehensive framework for dealing with the past.
Many loud voices have called for the wholesale rejection of the Eames/Bradley report and used different analyses of it to support their claims.
This included the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Report which on closer reading is quite clear in its sentiment on this issue and I quote: “a do nothing approach is not an option and a number of proposals in the Consultative Group report should be built upon”.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee goes on to say that “the issue of the past must be approached within a coherent overall framework and that whilst a Legacy Commission could not be supported at that time, it is possible that a similar body could be effective in the future following further debate.”
There would appear to be a degree of agreement around key strands for any approach to include (i) ongoing historical investigation (ii) information recovery (iii) examination of key thematic issues and events that have significantly impacted our society. There is also evidence to suggest that storytelling has been a useful mechanism in such processes.
I recognise that any approach would have to add coherence to existing structures such as the Historical Enquiries Team, the Victims Commission, the Community Relations Council and would underpin the valuable work of community and voluntary groups who support victims.
The Historical Enquiries Team set out to review 2559 cases involving 3259 victims by April 2013. It is just over halfway through its murder cases and in chronological terms has reached 1977.
Victims deserve to know whether a proper investigation of a crime against them or their loved ones has been carried out properly and there is not doubt that the HET has met the needs of many families in terms of investigation and information recovery and for many victims is the first coherent narrative they have received of what happened to their loved one.
It is clear; however, there are outstanding demands for truth and justice and that the criminal justice system is not going to be able to deal with them all.
If we are to deal with the past we must recognise and acknowledge victims and survivors but to stop there is to fail to examine the full legacy and consequence of our past.
Dealing with the past is not just about victims and it would be wrong to put the challenge on to victims alone.
Deep division, sectarianism, segregation, suspicion and socio-economic deprivation that affect are wider community and econom are all legacies of the past.
It is for this reason that an overarching policy framework to include a coordinating body, which is independent, has a realistic timeframe and possible international involvement that will take forward (i) ongoing historical investigation (ii) information recovery (iii) an examination of key thematic issues and the use of storytelling should form a basis from which we can consider a comprehensive way to deal with the past.
British Government, Irish Government, this Assembly and international friends have enough creativity and ability to foster agreement on this issue.
For the social and economic development of this community and for respect for diversity and equality to be at the heart of a new society this policy framework must victim-centred but also address the past in a way that helps us to move from a divided society to a shared and better future.
I acknowledge profound concerns; such as to how do we ensure full participation in such a process. Our past will never be dealt with if only state parties are held accountable.
But writing off such a process we could be disempowering a community from examining, developing and presenting models that might address their needs.
This does not mean forgetting the past but there are times when party politics must be secondary to the common good. This is such a time.
I therefore, appeal to members of this Assembly to support this motion which would display our commitment to timetabled cross-party talks and an attempt to seek a way in which we can meet this difficult challenge of dealing with the past.