HTR Statement on Media Reports of Government Proposals

Healing Through Remembering (HTR) is deeply concerned about reports that the UK Government intends to place limits on prosecutions for offences committed before the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. We are particularly concerned at the suggestion that this plan is intended to ‘draw a line under the past’ and facilitate ‘reconciliation.’

HTR fully endorses the principle of reconciliation. However, it is important to recognise that is a complex and contested concept that is inextricably linked not only to issues of truth, justice, and acknowledgement, but also to complicated root causes of conflict and personal experiences. Through more than 20 years of grassroots engagement, academic research and policy analysis, and international collaboration and networking, HTR has learned that drawing a line under the past is neither possible nor a route to reconciliation.

When we speak about the conflict in and about Northern Ireland, the term ‘The Past’ is almost inadequate: it collapses the complexity, weight, and importance of the different issues at stake into a neat label. While this happens in normal conversation, it has a distancing effect; it enables us to become removed from the gravity and life-changing seriousness of the events. It numbs the impact of the reality of the immense pain and hurt involved. Crucially, it disrespects the personal experiences of victims and survivors, who continue to grapple with the consequences of the conflict every day. As a society that values peace, we cannot refuse victims and survivors the right to pursue justice.

HTR has learned that for individuals and society to make sense of injury and loss – whether personal, political or material – in a way that supports recovery and the promise of a better future together, we must deal with the past. This means we must engage with one another, build processes on the basis of dialogue rather than unilateral decision-making, and hold true to the commitments we make along that journey. There is no reconciliation without trust, and there is no trust without mutual accountability.

Important steps have been taken in recent years to set a high standard, worthy of the 1998 Agreement and our children’s future, in developing a holistic approach to dealing with the past. Less than two years ago, HTR welcomed the release of the UK Government’s analysis of the public consultation on the Stormont House Agreement proposals: Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past. There were 17,000 responses to that consultation and the Northern Ireland Office’s analysis recognised the importance of reflecting on the fullest possible range of voices and views in this process.  Furthermore, the UK Government, as a party to the New Decade New Approach Agreement (2020), committed to progress the legacy proposals in good faith. These developments suggest that tackling this challenge together is possible.

HTR is concerned that the reported plans of the UK Government appear to run counter to the extensive and courageous discussions, consultations and processes undertaken to date. We should build from this foundation. We remain committed to finding a society-wide process of dealing with the past that respects and includes all voices. We should not sell future generations short by suggesting through our actions today that this is not possible. Trying to draw a line under the past using the law in this way will not work and will only create further division. Dialogue and finding a shared approach to dealing with the past is the only way forward.

7 May 2021