This reinforces the absolute certainty that without the involvement of community-based organisations in the collection of the Oral History Archive I do not think it will come off the ground at all. I do not believe this is simply a centralised professional model. There are professional standards and practices that have to be applied but the engagement of local agents, and also the people doing the recordings and the actual interviews and the work, is, in many cases, critical to people's willingness to speak. One of the consequences of conflict is not simply the consequence for the individual victim; it is about trust and the absolute catastrophe of trust leaving and, therefore, one has to have a person who is a trusted intermediary to whom these people can speak. We must be very clear about this; the Oral History Archive is going to have to be a delicately constructed process that allows people to enter it at different points, but the standards have to be central. That is a start.
The second aspect goes back to the question of the Good Friday Agreement. There is the assumption that this only works if it is seen as the reading into practice of a commitment already given to the Good Friday Agreement, that it does not exist independently, that dealing with the past only exists in relation to the decision to make a peace process and that a political commitment is there to make it work. Other than that I do not believe it exists independently, or it fits into the politics of its time - which are different politics. The issues we are dealing with, therefore, are not just technical. They are the profound political crisis that was referred to earlier here; are we still really on this process at all? I am a bit more pessimistic than Professor McEvoy but, like him, I believe that this is a test case.
One could turn that around. The test case will show what kind of process of dealing with the past we actually come up with. Does it begin to deal with people's need for truth, as has been referred to? Does it begin to access pensions as a real possibility? Does it begin to deal restoratively with the real harms? Does it try to find ways to do so? This is about finding ways. It cannot simply be a control process. It must be a process which throws up questions about what we are going do subsequently.
I want to touch on the notion of restorative practice around the themes. People think about these themes in a very politicised, historical or political way. That is probably my own way of doing it academically. Nevertheless, we also need to think of these themes as social themes. One example is gender. The way in which people of different genders experienced conflict, harm and the consequences of these things, and the way they coped, is a massively important theme which needs to be explored and opened. There are other themes like it. The intergenerational theme seems to be really quite serious. What have the consequences been? We are seeing patterns of suicide and trauma in the second generation. There is no doubt whatsoever that the consequences of losing a parent or relative in that context were massively important for those around the loss. That is another theme.
Locality is a theme. Northern Ireland, or the North of Ireland, is not a single unit. Neither is the jurisdiction across the Border. There are real issues arising from patterns of locality. The conflict has had very specific and profound effects on the way places operate, which we have to deal with. I refer to mental health. Mental health, and the way in which we are now able to use trauma in the mental health framework, could be an escape valve. It could also be a way to throw light on the real harms. This is linked to issues around domestic abuse and other patterns. That would be very interesting and important to look at.
Possibly along with intergenerational themes, the issue of gender is probably the critical one that would open the conflict up. It would allow us to see it not simply as an experience for a small, narrow group of people, but as something with consequences which engage everybody. This is not just the victims asking for something. This is us coming to terms with the extremely complicated legacy of the past around the Border. That would also allow the questions of who is being served and what services are about to be much more open questions. It would allow these questions to be mainstreamed across health, education and all the different areas affected. For me, that is important.
I am no longer on it, but I sat for 20 years on the Sentence Review Commission. I was a sentence review commissioner. This was the process through which early relief of prisoners was managed in the Good Friday Agreement. When I went on it, I remember thinking that in a sense it was the best available political compromise that we could have. It allowed for the two-year minimum sentence for conviction, and at the same time it allowed people to say that those who were released continued to hold licences. The life sentence prisoners all continued to hold licences. This was all right as a step. However, we need to complete the question of what transition we expect. Are people who were released to be ex-prisoners always, or is there a mechanism through which they can be, returned and restored to the community? We need to think about all of those steps as part of making our violent conflict something which belongs to an identifiable period, rather than a continuing reality which continues to infect and affect absolutely everything that happens.
I will return to the issue of the Good Friday Agreement. I refer to it all the time, but I contend that the second paragraph of the agreement, which in practice is essentially the first paragraph, sets a tone which now appears terminally naive and romantic. That is what worries me. It says:
"The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. But we can best honour them through a fresh start [which is paradoxical, since we had to have another one in 2015], in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all."
When people say that the Good Friday Agreement has been superseded, I am less focused on specific institutions than on that. I want to know if we are setting that aim aside. Is that gone? Are we no longer aiming at those particular aims? We now talk in Northern Ireland of outcomes-based accountability. For all the institutions and legal frameworks that seem to flow from the agreement, the outcome has to be reconciliation, tolerance, mutual trust, and the vindication of human rights of all. If that is not the outcome then the processes are all distortion. Everything that we do should have that at the beginning. The test of viability of these things needs to go back to those aims. That is a slightly naive and silly thing to say at this point. However, it strikes me that given the hiatus in the institutions that we currently have, the restoration of the institutions should not simply be about the restoration of the institutions. The restoration of the institutions has to be about the renewal of their purpose as well.
My concern is not that the institutions have gone, but that the purposes underpinning them have been lost. Under the aegis of those purposes, it would be possible for politicians to argue in favour of making certain decisions in their own communities. Those decisions may appear difficult, but they are in pursuit of a higher cause to which everyone has signed up, a cause which is contained in the Good Friday Agreement. If that framework is lost, it becomes increasingly difficult for politicians in any political party to argue that they are acting in the best interests of their communities and that those interests are actually articulated in the agreement.
I am only labouring this point because I know it is about victims today. If that is lost, I predict that all of this will become another recriminatory process. That will be manifest in the failings and the limitations of the legislation, the way in which people are handled and their degree of trust in the Oral History Archive. There is something here which is not just legal. It require us to invest a certain amount of political capital. It requires us to ensure that what comes out of these is aligned to that purpose. That is complex in the current situation, but I nevertheless want to put it back into the equation. If it is not, I fear that some of this is simply talking for the sake of feeling that we can do this. The outcomes will not be what we want. This will not be outcome-based.