HTR is project partner in ‘Amnesties, Prosecutions, and Public Interest’ research

Led by Kieran McEvoy (QUB School of Law), Gordon Anthony (QUB School of Law) and Louise Mallinder (UU Transitional Justice Institute) with research fellow Luke Moffett, Healing Through Remembering (HTR) is assisting in a research project funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) on issues around amnesties, prosecutions, and the public interest.

Framed by an exploration of the meaning of ‘public interest’, this project examines the inter-relationship between amnesties or amnesty-like measures and historical prosecutions in the Northern Ireland transition. Although people will inevitably make up their own mind about what they consider to be the best way forward on these matters, the purpose of this project is to provide information on the international, historical and legal context to amnesties, prosecution and the public interest in order to ensure that the public debate is as well informed as possible.

The challenges associated with ‘dealing with the past’ in Northern Ireland remain obvious even fifteen years after the Good Friday Agreement. Currently, there are a number of different past-related formal investigative processes:

  • The Office of the Police Ombudsman is examining historic allegations of police malfeasance including allegations of collusion;
  • The Historical Enquiries Team (as part of the PSNI) is investigating all deaths related to the conflict;
  • Several inquests into contentious deaths during the conflict are before the coroner;
  • Civil cases on conflict-related deaths and internment are before the courts;
  • Several public inquiries have been held into high profile killings;
  • The Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains is investigating the fate of disappeared persons; and,
  • Many ex-prisoners are challenging the legality of their convictions by having their cases reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

However, even with all these processes significant gaps in uncovering the truth about the conflict remain. A number of bodies, most notably the Consultative Group of the Past (2009), have recommended that an overarching truth-recovery mechanism should be established.

Regardless of whether a truth commission is created, in seeking to investigate past crimes, Northern Ireland, like other societies which have struggled with the past, has had to deal with a number of tensions. These have included, most obviously, the tension between efforts at truth recovery (which almost inevitably involve some discussion on amnesty-like measures designed to incentivise former combatants or state actors to tell ‘the truth’ about their past activities), and the desire by some actors to continue to secure prosecutions for past-related criminal activities.

To date, both amnesties and prosecution have to some degree already been used in addressing certain cases relating to the conflict. For example, information provided by individuals for the Commission for the Location for Victims’ Remains as well as the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday could not be used in criminal proceedings against those individuals. On the other hand, investigations by the HET have resulted in a number of prosecutions.

This project builds on a previous AHRC-funded project entitled Beyond Legalism: Amnesties, Transition and Conflict Transformation, in which McEvoy and Mallinder (with Brice Dickson) conducted a comparative examination of the use of amnesties in Argentina, South Africa, Uganda, Uruguay, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In all of those contexts the use of amnesties was controversial in different ways and indeed lively conversations concerning the utility, viability and desirability of past-related prosecutions were key themes. The knowledge gained from that research will inform the contemporary debates in Northern Ireland.

HTR, as the community partner, brings grassroots involvement which complements the universities’ technical and academic aspects of the project.  The partnership is designed to highlight these issues, which can make further contributions to the important public debate about dealing with the past.

The project began in November 2012 and will continue over the course of 2013.  Thus far it has entailed a series of meetings, briefings, discussions and seminars with key actors as well as a major conference entitled “Dealing with the Past in Northern Ireland: Law, Prosecutions and Truth Recovery” which was held on 21 May 2013 with significant participation and attendance.  A full report from the conference and research findings will be available in the coming months.

More information about the research project along with a list of speakers and videos of sessions from the May 2013 conference is available at the website or by contacting Luke Moffett at