Good afternoon. Apologies for the delays with the votes and so on. Before I open the floor to members, we agreed that we would take Ms Thompson’s opening statement and maybe a round of questions and then go into private session. This will allow us to have probably a franker discussion.
Legacy Issues: Commission for Victims and Survivors
May I clarify the terms?
We can ask questions in public session-----
We can ask questions-----
-----and the answers will come in private session.
No, we can get the answers in public session as well. I am just conscious that if there are questions that are sensitive or-----
I totally understand that, but we are not precluded from asking sensitive questions in public session?
No. I will leave it up to Ms Thompson and Mr. Brecknell which questions to answer in public session and which to answer in private session, depending on the extent to which they feel a question is straying into a sensitive area. It makes sense to do it this way. If there is anything they would prefer to answer in private, we will go into private session. I apologise but I will have to leave to speak for ten minutes at some stage during the session. It will probably be during the private session. Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan will, I believe, need to leave shortly afterwards. Unfortunately, that is the nature of these sittings. Quite a few members are missing. I apologise for that, but our guests are very welcome.
I remind members, witnesses and persons in the Public Gallery to turn off their mobile phones. Members are requested to ensure that, for the duration of the meeting, their mobile phones are turned off completely or switched to aeroplane, safe or flight mode, depending on the device. It is not sufficient for members just to put their phones on silent mode as this will maintain a level of interference with the broadcasting system.
I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. If they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Again, Ms Thompson and Mr. Brecknell are warmly welcome.
Ms Judith Thompson
I thank the committee for inviting me and Mr. Brecknell, as a representative of the victims’ forum, to address it. As I am sure members will be aware, the purpose of the commission is to represent the interests of victims and survivors of the Troubles. Part of my legislative duty - and it is one of the best parts - is that I convene a forum of victims and survivors who help make sure that victims themselves are at the heart of legislation and policy in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. This is the second time I have addressed this committee, and this meeting is timely both in the context of our policy advice and suggestions to the Government of Ireland regarding the consultation on dealing with the past, but also in the context of EU exit and on the ongoing implementation of the PEACE IV programme in Northern Ireland. I would like to start by providing some brief commentary on these important developments, particularly regarding legacy-related matters.
Members of the committee will be very aware that the Good Friday Agreement made a commitment to remember and care for those who were harmed during the Troubles.
It is my belief that there has been a number of very substantial attempts over the years to address the harm that was done but that so far the legislation we need on both sides of the Border has failed to be agreed and failed to be passed to address the needs of victims and survivors. The fact is, as we sit here today, that bereaved families who wish to access judicial processes, who come from every part of society, from across the United Kingdom, Ireland and beyond, are told they must wait decades, if at all, before they can get access to investigations, to justice, to information about the death of people they loved, and to acknowledgement of the harm they suffered. That has a growing cost. It has a cost to families and people in terms of their belief that the state they live in cares what happened to them, in terms of their faith in government and justice organisations, and in terms of the communities’ faith in justice organisations, particularly in Northern Ireland.
Judicial reviews and legal actions have also got a high financial cost and the irony is that £30 million a year was spent for decades on dealing with legacy in ways that did not work and fighting judicial reviews and actions. It is more expensive to do nothing and to continue as we are than it would be to introduce new mechanisms that would have a better chance of delivering for victims and survivors. It is almost universally accepted that the current system in Northern Ireland and beyond is not equipped to address the situation. It was not designed to do so, and the cost of this failure is evident at many levels. For individuals, families and communities across these islands who are impacted there is still acute pain and loss and that is now accompanied by a strong sense that those who are empowered to address their issues have chosen to ignore them for decades. That is why dealing with the legacy of the past cannot be achieved by measures which fail to fully address the many complex and difficult issues.
It is also very clear that in the context of high levels of disillusionment and low levels of trust which exist across different political constituencies in Northern Ireland and in Ireland that any approach must be balanced, it must be transparent, it must operate within the law and it must be victim centred. People who have suffered harm have waited too long for effective organisations to address their needs.
In relation to legacy and the recent consultation, in May 2018 the UK Government published its consultation paper addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland's past. It set out draft legislation for implementing the historical investigations unit, HIA, the oral history archive, OHA, the independent commission for information retrieval and the implementation and reconciliation group. There were 18,000 responses to that consultation, and as we still await its outcome victims and survivors continue to be frustrated by the failure to deliver on those legacy mechanisms. While recognising that these delays have a link to the current political impasse I would still strongly impress on all our political representatives the need to agree proposals to deal with the past. People have waited too long.
I wish to reflect on some changes which I believe could make these proposals more victim centred and inclusive but, in spite of anything one might say about the current proposals that they can be improved and should be improved, the need to find a new way forward is unarguable. There is really no good case for continuing to deal with these matters in the way they are currently dealt with. In January 2019 I offered this advice to the UK Government and it set out the commission's views on the basis of extensive consultation on the four proposals.
For the first time my policy advice paper also provides comments for consideration by the Irish Government on how to ensure that the needs of victims and survivors are met in the Republic of Ireland. When talking to people affected by the conflict across the United Kingdom and Ireland it is clear that their experience and needs are very much the same. I believe these need should be addressed in an inclusive way and that choices and options which are open to those who live in Northern Ireland should also be open to those who live elsewhere. That is why, for the first time, I have shared my advice and made proposals to the Government of Ireland.
The recommendations in my policy advice have been made after extensive engagement with the victims and survivors forum, with individual victims and survivors, strategic partners, elected representatives, policy makers and organisations funded to deliver services as well as wider civic society. That has taken place across the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The advice I am giving to both Governments also is guided by five key principles agreed by the victims and survivors forum. The first is co-design and collaboration. If one is going to do something to address the needs of people who have been harmed, one must do it in a spirit of co-design with those people. For example, I have recommended that a victims and survivors steering group be part of mechanisms to investigate. I give information to families and in every part of these proposals I have suggested greater engagement of victims and survivors in the design. They must be victim centred and victim led. That means the needs, interest, views and wishes of individual victims and survivors takes priority. For example, in relation to each of these institutions I have talked about the need for advocacy and support to enable people to make the choices that are right for them and to enable them to be supported and to be advocated for.
The third principle I look for is inclusivity. Many people have been excluded from the scope of these proposals and that includes people who lost people they loved outside of Northern Ireland, in the Republic of Ireland, across the UK and elsewhere. There is a sense of isolation and inequality felt by those victims who often experience a low level of access to support, and a lower access to justice in some cases than those elsewhere.
It is absolutely critical that whatever we do is done in a way which is independent and impartial. Trust is paramount and it is at a very low level for victims and survivors for very understandable reasons. That is true across the UK and for those people to whom I have spoken in the Republic of Ireland. For example, on the part of both Governments, there are concerns that some matters may be redacted on the basis of national security. In addition, for both Governments there is a real need to make sure that any institutions therefore are as transparent as they can be, robust in terms of having appeal mechanisms against redaction and that families are given the absolute maximum explanation and access to information and can see that that is happening. That matters wherever people live and wherever the bereavement took place. All mechanisms must be fit for purpose so, for example, timeframes and funding have to be realistic. There is no point doing things and then not funding them properly. We have had decades of experience of that. It creates disillusionment and distrust.
In relation to more general issues in addressing legacy, in the Northern Ireland Office, NIO, consultation the Secretary of State has clearly detailed that, first and foremost, they must meet the needs of victims and survivors. They must seek to promote reconciliation and they must reflect broad political consensus. I welcome those broad principles. However, while I am of the view that these proposals currently are the best opportunity we have, there are significant changes that need to be made to address the principles I have outlined. The purpose of historical investigations should not be defined narrowly in terms of the numbers of prosecutions. That is not primarily what the investigations need to deliver. What matters to people is evident from previous and ongoing investigations, that is, that new information and evidence can be uncovered and that families who want answers can be better served than they have been, even if the evidence is likely in many cases to be insufficient to secure a conviction. The critical issues for many families and communities as well are access to information about the circumstances leading to the death of people they loved and acknowledgement of the harm that has been done to them. I have sought in my advice to draw out what the implications of that should be and what the focus on family should look like for the objectives, the structure, the staffing and the processes of historical investigations.
This is not a normal investigation. It is not just about getting convictions and it is worth doing even if convictions are going to be very few and far between.
It is often pointed out that different people have different wishes and needs and therefore it is right that the proposed package of measures offers choices and options to individuals and families but, however, these choices and options must be accompanied by support and information so people can make the decisions that are right for them. That would mean the people who want information can be given the best opportunity they have, but at the same time those who do not want information, of whom there are many, and there are some in every family, are not routinely delivered with packages of information they do not want. It is important that there is an intelligent and informed way of communicating with families. Advocacy services are critical for people when they engage with legacy institutions. My recommendations seek to ensure that all of the institutions build in links to what currently exists in the way of advocacy and enhancement of that to meet new demands.
There are 47 recommendations and I do not propose to go right through them, but there are some broad areas with specific reference to the Government of Ireland. In the case of historical investigations, I have requested that the Irish Government establish a mechanism whereby Troubles-related deaths which happened in the Republic are investigated. I know the scope of the current proposal relates only to deaths that occur in Northern Ireland, but I have talked to people who lost loved ones within this country and they feel just the same. There should never be a two-tier approach. One cannot have a hierarchy based on location in terms of how people access truth and justice. It is my strong submission that there needs to be a new mechanism here as well to investigate outstanding Troubles-related deaths.
I have also heard from bereaved families in Ireland and across the UK whose access to both civil and criminal justice processes is dependent on the close collaboration between justice organisations in different jurisdictions. I welcome the development of legislation by the Irish Government to facilitate exchange of information for legacy inquests. I believe that new organisations will need to work very effectively and share information across jurisdictions if they are going to build trust and to deliver what can be delivered to victims and survivors.
For both Governments there are issues regarding information considered as sensitive regarding national security. There is also a need for both Governments to establish fully transparent and accountable processes for determining what information can be withheld or should be withheld on those grounds. Victims and survivors across the UK and Ireland, for very understandable reasons, feel that both Governments could use redaction on the grounds of national security as a cloak behind which to hide unpalatable facts. Whether that perception is accurate or not, it is entirely understandable if there is not as transparent a process as is achievable.
On the independent commission for information retrieval, which is based on the treaty between the UK and Irish Governments and is accessible to people across both jurisdictions, I have recommended that they should have a victims and survivors steering group in the same way as I have recommended the historical investigations process. It is just as important that there is an intelligent, informed approach based on consultation with victims and survivors about how this institution engages with families, how it seeks to inform its deliverables on the basis of what families want. It is very important that in deciding what questions should be asked, information retrieval is led by the wishes of victims and survivors. Anything given through an information retrieval process can be structured in individual cases around the questions families have to ask, so engaging with families in an inclusive way and basing the work of the institution on families’ wishes is the best way for it to deliver what it can deliver.
I have also recommended that there would be a proactive outreach strategy because to be inclusive, people have to know one exists. If information retrieval is something that many people do not know exists, then they cannot use it, so inclusivity means outreach and communication. I have recommended that an appeals process similar to that of the historical investigations unit should be put in place if there is any decision to redact information on national security grounds.
I recognise that the danger of information leaking between information retrieval and investigations is a real danger which must be removed. At the same time, the obvious answer of sequencing one then the other is not necessarily a very victim-friendly answer. There will be people and families who may already feel they have got as much as they can get from an investigative process and they may want to move forward into information retrieval. Telling them they have another decade to wait may be time that they do not have. It is important that in seeking to solve those design problems, there is extensive consultation with victims and survivors and perhaps even consideration of giving some ability to families to choose the route they go down when time is short.
Another key issue to be addressed, in particular in relation to information retrieval, is the impact of incomplete or incorrect information. I have met and talked to people who have been given information which has then turned out not to be correct, which is worse than being given nothing.
The oral history archive is an incredibly important proposal for something which can capture narratives and grow understanding in a way that can help build reconciliation as well as giving people the right to have their experiences acknowledged, heard and recorded. It is important that it is done in an inclusive way. I reiterate a point I have made previously, namely, that it cannot be something that sits in a building somewhere. It must be based on outreach. It cannot be inclusive unless it is communicated properly and contributed to in a bottom-up way by different communities. It is also important that nobody thinks they are excluded from it by having signed the Official Secrets Act, for example. Those things need to be dealt with to do that in an inclusive way. This is about growing reconciliation so something that captures narratives in a way that grows understanding is incredibly important to that.
The legislative proposals on the implementation and reconciliation group are incredibly thin and yet the basic idea of it, what is at the heart of the mechanism, is probably the most important of all. If it is to be about acknowledgement and capturing what comes out of the other processes in a way that helps people move on, then it must be independent of political interference. The way it is proposed at the moment, which is almost a kind of d'Hondt process where people can get elected onto it at the proposal of a political party and withdrawn by a political party without any reason given will not grow its ability to deliver a composite independent narrative based on the information coming into it. For it to achieve its purpose, it is important that there are clear criteria for the nomination of an individual to that group, and that there would be an equally clear basis on which someone can be removed from it, and that its purpose in terms of giving acknowledgement to those who suffered needs to be more strongly built into the way it is put together. That can be on an individual or much more societal level.
There are other issues to consider, which in the interests of time I will not go into in detail. In relation to accessing services here in Ireland and in other parts of the UK and Great Britain, outside Northern Ireland, it is welcome that we have funding under PEACE IV, which is now starting to deliver health and well-being services to people who have not had it before, but if we are going to properly deal with people's needs and if we are going to do that in the context of properly dealing with difficult issues in the past then there is going to be a growing need, for a while, for advocacy, support, health and well-being and mental health services.
In relation to mental health in particular, the growth of the regional trauma network is incredibly important. It is something that has been very slow because of the difficulty of getting policy progressed and funding in the current absence of the assembly in Northern Ireland. However, it is beginning to be developed and it will be operational within the next year and it is needed as much in Ireland as it is in Northern Ireland, in particular in relation to the current proposals.
I strongly suggest that the committee look at how health in the North and in Ireland can work together on this critically important area of mental health and trauma that is related to the Troubles. Given the scale and complexity of the mental health legacy of the Troubles, it is very important that people have access to high-quality services and mental health services which are nuanced to an understanding of Troubles related trauma.
Above all, it is important to remember that the aim of addressing legacy must be to build a better future. At a civic and a political level there continues to be a war of words about the harm inflicted on different individuals and different communities during the Troubles. This in itself is often to the detriment of those who suffered. My recommendations, therefore, seek to ensure that the combined impact of this package is to offer what is achievable in terms of truth, justice, acknowledgement and reparation to people who were harmed and to do this in a way that is victim centred, respectful and inclusive of all those who suffered. The proposed mechanisms are designed to address the outstanding impact of the conflict on the people, communities and institutions of Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK and in Ireland. It is a difficult process which is uncomfortable for all, but it needs to be uncomfortable for all to deliver the outcomes which have been sought. Without these difficult conversations, the Civil Service in Northern Ireland will continue to be anchored to a trauma and division which the Troubles wrought. Twenty-one years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the broad shape of these measures seems to me to be what we have come back to time and, again and it is the best chance we have of dealing with the outstanding, unfinished business. Although these proposals can be improved and require some changes, they are still a basis on which we can improve the well-being of victims and survivors and build a better and more reconciled society for all.
I thank members for their time. I am very happy to take questions.
I should be here for most of the meeting. The Chairman has to leave before I do. Listening to Ms Thompson and reading the policy paper, my immediate reaction is, “If only she were the Minister for justice for Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic.” What she says is just so practical and common sense and it is what we hear from the victims, or in my case Justice for the Forgotten. I chair that group, as the Chairman did before me. What Ms Thompson says is just so true to their story, their experience and what they have been looking for. Twenty-one years since the Good Friday Agreement, they are waiting 45 years now, or 46 this year. It is incredible.
Reading through the policy paper, one thing that really struck me was the statement that in the policy sphere “it is paramount that information is not seen to be withheld by any government or institution”. We know the blocks from the British Government on that information, even refusing to hand it to an independent international judicial figure. The paper also refers to an entitlement to justice “regardless of where a death happened”. There is a feeling that the Troubles related deaths that occurred in the Republic are not seen to be as important or to have the same parity as those that occurred in Northern Ireland. The paper also states: “It is imperative that both the UK and Irish governments provide the necessary resources to allow all conflict related deaths to be fully investigated.” This is what the families and the victims have been looking for. We have had questions here with our Ministers and meetings on a historical investigations unit, HIU, in the Republic and they always say no, that it is not part of the agreement. Will the witnesses – whoever wants to answer the question – see this happening in order that there is that parity?
Regarding amnesties, we know there are different views as to whether we should draw a line under everything and go for information retrieval and not look for anything else. How should these two be balanced? A lot of costs will be involved in much of what Ms Thompson says. Is she confident that these costs can be met? The witnesses have had discussions with our Government. Will they tell us how confident they are that the Government is taking seriously their recommendations and, equally, those of other authorities?
Ms Judith Thompson
If it is okay with Mr. Bracknell, I would like him to take the first question about providing in Ireland something like the historical investigations unit. I would like to talk about amnesty and the statute of limitations and a little about costs as well. I guess we have both had conversations with Ireland’s Government, so perhaps we can both talk about that.
Mr. Alan Bracknell
Deputy O’Sullivan knows my feelings on whether there should be a HIU or some sort of HIU-type process south of the Border. I attend the same meetings to which she has referred. Whenever we in the victims’ forum have had discussions on dealing with the past, the point we have all made is that everyone should be treated equally. It does not matter where the harm happened or who inflicted it. Equal treatment is what is most important. As the proposals stand, people who were bereaved or injured south of the Border and people who were bereaved or injured in Britain do not avail of a similar package in respect of investigations. That is the information that has to be addressed which we in the Victims and Survivors Forum passed on up to Ms Thompson. It is good to see it in her proposals here. The point is that if this is not done, it creates a hierarchy of victims. Our ask today is that this committee exercise whatever influence it can on the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of the Taoiseach and tell them they have to put in place something south of the Border that is on a parallel with the HIU in the North. We recently met the Garda Commissioner and his point basically was that this is Government policy. The only people who can change that are in the Government. Therefore, whatever can be done from within this committee and whatever other committees there are is important.
Ms Judith Thompson
Regarding the issue of an amnesty, it does not matter whether I talk to people in Ireland, the United Kingdom or other parts of Great Britain, I do not for the most part meet victims and survivors who want there to be an amnesty. I meet many people who say prosecutions are not that important to them, but that is different from saying there should be no attempt to uncover the truth of what happened. It does not matter whether one talks to soldiers’ families – soldiers were often killed – or to people who died at the hands of the army. None of these people wants to be told that the way to draw a line under this is to bury it. That is what they have been told already and it just feels like a lack of acknowledgement that what happened mattered. The point is that to move on, to draw that line, information needs to be given to those who want it and there must be an acknowledgement at a much more civic level of the wrong and the harm that was done. That is how one draws a line and moves on. One does not do so by suppressing investigation. I think everyone in this room is very familiar with the arguments about the legality of an amnesty. It is very clear. It can be legal if it is universal for all parties to the conflict and is accompanied by an information retrieval process. That is not the conversation I hear happening. What I hear is a conversation about whether this person or that person should not be pursued or held accountable. I am afraid that uncomfortable accountability is part of this process. It is not about pillorying individuals who are elderly now, no matter who they are, but it is about saying harm happened and that people who were harmed and who want information are entitled to it, regardless of what happens to the person who caused that harm. At the end of the day, under the law, there should be a fair, impartial, competent investigation into somebody’s death. That is all people are looking for.
The terms of the Good Friday Agreement, as people in this room are very aware, still apply. They apply to everyone, including soldiers. No one will do more than two years in prison, even if they were convicted, and the likelihood of anyone being convicted is pretty low.
What is important is access to information and an acknowledgement. Talking about amnesties is a distraction in providing it and in moving on. It is not lawful to provide for amnesties in the way in which it is often proposed to provide for them and I do not believe it would meet the needs of victims and survivors or society more generally in dealing with the past in a way that would allow people to draw a line and move on. That is my take on the question of amnesties.
On costs, yes, this would be expensive, but I ask the committee to consider adding up what it is now costing to do nothing. We are not doing anything. Certainly, in the United Kingdom there are repeated legal actions and mounting costs arising from judicial reviews. We finally have funding to properly equip coroners’ courts to deal with a backlog of 50 cases. We also have a legacy investigation branch within the Police Service of Northern Ireland which is neither equipped nor constructed in a way which enables it to have the confidence of the public and the courts in doing its job, but it is still costing money to run it. In 2013 the criminal justice inspectorate produced a report in which it added up what it thought was the cost of dealing with the past in Northern Ireland. It stated the figure was £30 million a year. I think those costs have gone up, not down, and we have been spending this money for decades, but it should not be about money. However, if we are going to talk about it, I ask the committee to consider adding up the cost of what we are now doing and set it against how the money could be spent better. I argue that we need to do different things to deal with the past in terms of justice, as well as spending more on mental health, advocacy and support services for victims and survivors. The long-term results would be much better for people, families, victims and survivors and, naturally, communities and civic society also.
Regarding conversations with the Government, we are delighted to be here. In the consultation we were certainly helpfully assisted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We also worked with Justice for the Forgotten in contacting people, as well as with Austin Stack and others connected with him to get people together, but the proof of the pudding will be in what is implemented. I know that there is ongoing work on legislation to enable information to be passed between jurisdictions on civil matters, but more is needed. As Mr. Bracknell described, there is a need for a counterpart to this investigative unit working here. I have had the same conversation with families in Birmingham. There is a need for something to happen in parts of the United Kingdom also. People who have been left wanting for decades do not expect the system that has failed to deliver to date to do better for them next time and why should they?
I thank the commissioner for her presentation and Mr. Bracknell. It is on days like today that my belief in politics is restored. The first thing I want to say is that this report should be delivered to each and every one of the victims and survivors. Sometimes I think, although this is a live broadcast, we are talking to ourselves. If the report was delivered to the victims and survivors, it would certainly give me some faith that some progress had been made. The old adage that justice delayed is justice denied is so true. I have said at a number of committee meetings that if one were not told who was making the presentation and from which side of the divide someone was from, one would not know because the problems were the same. We are dealing with legacy issues, whether it be the Kingsmill massacre; the Miami Showband; individuals such as Terence McKeever; the Ludlow family; or the disappeared, including Captain Robert Nairac or, as I have mentioned before at meetings of the committee, Eugene Simons and Gerard Evans, of whose disappearance very close to where I live I am intimately aware. Deputy O’Sullivan and others can speak about the Dundalk, Monaghan and Dublin bombings. The reality is, judging from my engagement with the people affected and many others who have come before the committee, they hear the talk but want us to walk the walk. What the delegates have said very eloquently encapsulates an awful lot. I think Ms Thompson said she speaks to the Governments. We are being asked to put whatever pressure we can on the Department of Justice and Equality and other Departments, but I do not think it is a question of exerting pressure. The document will help to clear the air and deal with the lack of faith in the systems, North and South, on I commend Ms Thompson.
I refer, in particular, to the issue raised by Ms Thompson of the legacy of the past in the context of justice and truth and specifically an amnesty, an issue which has been discussed in the past few minutes. My experience which is not necessary the same as that of Ms Thompson is that people just want closure, regardless of whether it means looking for a court case and a conviction. In the main, I have found that all people want is the truth. Ms Thompson referred to mental health and the trauma suffered. In the case of many of the incidents with which I have dealt, whether they involve individuals or larger numbers, it is beyond belief that people are still suffering. We all grieve, but we do not do so when we do not know why somebody suffered. I become slightly emotional when I talk about this issue. Again, having lived on the Border and seen the trauma suffered on both sides, I do not care who the people are; they are entitled to a conclusion.
I suppose I am making statements more than asking questions, but Ms Thompson has issued a report which, as I said, needs to be properly circulated. I was a member of a local authority for 25 years and have been a Member of the Dáil for almost four. We have received promises, but the day for promises from both sides is over. How can we, collectively, get people to realise the legacy issues probably have the most impact in bringing about closure to what has gone on on this island for far too long? The delegates are talking to us; we are talking to the Department and meeting people, yet there does not seem to be any joined-up thinking. We can blame either side, but, ultimately, the administration, be it from a Southern, Northern or British perspective, needs to put its foot on the accelerator to bring about closure, be it for good or bad, for the families of the victims. It cannot just be soundbites. I meet people daily. I have mentioned the Ludlow family others who say all we do here is talk. It is action that we need.
Before I bring in Ms Gildernew, would Deputy Breathnach, as Vice Chairman, like to-----
No, I am fine.
Ms Michelle Gildernew
Ms Thompson and Mr. Bracknell are both welcome. If I walked past Mr. Bracknell outside and did not speak to him, I apologise. I thank Ms Thompson for her opening remarks.
There is a lot in here. The witnesses have spoken about meeting representatives of the Government and the Department of foreign affairs. Have they met with the Taoiseach or Deputy Coveney? If the policy is going to change it is people like that who are going to have to change it. At what level have they met with people within the Government? It is important that they are brought into the process. I agree with Deputies Maureen O’Sullivan and Breathnach that there is a lot of common sense in what the witnesses have said. We would appreciate that change in policy. There are victims right across these islands and survivors. While the Dublin-Monaghan bombings understandably get a lot of attention, there were bombings in Cavan as well and families bereaved and children who died as a result of that. The pain of those families is the exact same as that of Jonathan Parry. Anybody who has lost a loved one knows what it feels like to be a victim. To that end is there any progress on the definition? As to the recent revelations around some of what happened in the North and the impact on victims, could the witnesses talk about how people are feeling as a result of that? It is interesting what they say about the Government using redaction on the grounds of national security. We have long held that view. I have been to coroners’ courts for inquests where it is clear that that is happening. When we talk about the financial cost of inquests, they would not be as expensive if the British Government did not spend as much money trying to keep the truth from the families. After more than 25 years we recently had the case of the Mallon family finally get to the inquest stage. The coroner basically said that no evidence of collusion was found. In his opening remarks he described the litany of attempts that were made to either destroy that evidence or to hide it. So while no evidence was found understandably because it was all gotten rid of, there was a family who came through the inquest after decades of waiting only to feel probably worse than they did before they went into it. So there is an awful lot of pain and hurt out there. I recognise that. We have all been through the conflict. I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2013 as a result of it so there are a lot of damaged people out there. I am glad that mental health featured so heavily in the report. We have to look at the wider societal issues, the impact that we have, both on prescribed drugs, on suicide rates and all of that. There is still an awful lot of hurt. If it is not tackled and dealt with properly then that hurt will continue to be generational and that pain will be felt for years to come. I thank the witnesses for coming and for giving us their time.
Mr. Alan Bracknell
Transgenerational trauma is starting to get a degree of traction in so far as people are actually acknowledging that it is happening now. Dramatic events that happened within families have not been talked about for years then suddenly a grandparent dies and it all comes back to people and they have that opportunity to talk where they had not talked before. We have to be very cognisant of what is actually happening there. We often hear regarding the likes of mental health and the health budget for the North, that it has to be an line with health budgets within the other parts of the UK. That takes away from the fact that we actually went through 25 to 30 years of conflict. One can call it a conflict or the Troubles. To me it does not matter what one calls it. At the end of the day it was an abnormal way of living for 25 to 30 years. Therefore, that has to have a knock-on effect. We have to acknowledge that knock-on effect. Whether that is putting money into the regional trauma network which I think is the best way of moving forward. We have had discussions with the people who are doing that. Sorry, when I say “we” I meant within the victims’ forum. From that perspective that has to be dealt with.
As regards getting the Governments involved, unfortunately Deputy Breathnach is right - a lot of people pay lip service to these issues. That is not good enough because it is actually something that has impacted massively on people’s lives, whether they live south of the Border or north of the Border or as I said earlier, whether they live in Great Britain. It is not about money. It should not be about money. If money needs to be found to build a nuclear power station it can be found. If it needs to be found to fight a war somewhere it can be found. For me personally that is not an issue. What is important is that we actually start to deal with this. It is 21 years on as everyone said yesterday from the Good Friday Agreement. We do not have many opportunities left. We have gone through numerous different consultations, Eames-Bradley and even before that. There is nothing new in the Stormont House Agreement proposals that were not in Eames-Bradley. We lost ten to 12 years there. We have to do it now. I do not want to make this personal, but my mother is 86 years of age. Thank God she is in the fullness of her health but there are other people who are not. We cannot allow this to drag on for another generation. I do want my children having to deal with what I have dealt with. I know I am personalising that but I am only personalising it to make that point that we should not allow this to move on to another generation.
It was only when Martina was talking it brought home to me that I attended the play in Belfast. That was so powerful from victims and families. The testimony that they all gave. It is great that it is coming to Dublin so people here can have a chance to see it. To me it was the power of drama to tell a story in a way that reports do not tell. So congratulations to them on their acting.
Mr. Alan Bracknell
I thank the Deputy. It is important to actually notice and realise that there are other ways of telling the story. It does not have to be part of the criminal justice system. To be honest I found that out by being involved in that process. It was a nerve-wracking process from the start but the point about it is there are other ways of doing things. We should not always look to the criminal justice system because in most jurisdictions the criminal justice system has not worked for people. It has definitely not worked for people regarding the Troubles or the conflict. So we do need to look at different ways of dealing with our past and getting a sense of empathy for each other which I think is sometimes lost and sometimes missing.
Ms Judith Thompson
I do not have much to add. To pick up on on the points around transparency and national security, it is not that people are telling me they do not believe there is such a thing as information which could leave people’s lives at risk or in danger. It is that they need to trust that that is genuinely and only the grounds on which things have been held. So the answers to that situation have to be about robust appeal and maximum transparency. That is an issue for both the Government of Ireland and the Government of the UK.
Ms Michelle Gildernew
As to the impact on victims of those recent real revelations and the definition, are we any closer to relate to the---
Ms Judith Thompson
The definition of victims? At the moment we have a definition in law which is the one I operate under. It is an inclusive definition. I understand why that is difficult for some people and I do not think it is a perfect definition. However, I do not know what a perfect definition would look like. I do not think a conversation about who should be excluded from consideration of their pain is a healthy one to have as a way of dealing with the past.
Thank you. lt has been a powerful presentation this morning. Thank you so much. The work that you are doing is phenomenal. With this committee I went up to the Ballymurphy inquest. I have to be honest, what I saw that day was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had. When families were there in the court they were hearing testimonies and the emotion really impacted on all of the committee that were there that day. It impacted us all so much. Alan spoke about how a play can tell stories. That for me told the reality of the story. I actually believe that day I saw healing for the families. That is what really moved me . For the next generation, for the children of those families and the healing for them even though some of them were not even alive it has a meaning for their brothers and fathers.
It was so moving. That is the reality of the situation for the families, for the victims and the survivors. I totally agree with Michelle when she says everybody has been impacted in some way. I would have travelled up during the conflict as a child going through Belfast up to Antrim. To go from Dublin in the 1960s and 1970s and to see the British army there is scary for a child. People had to live in that environment. That is the reality of living in a war environment. Everybody has to be impacted by that, never knowing what is going to happen next. Is a bomb going to go off? Is there going to be a shooting? Nobody knew so one is living in that PTSD environment and the impact of that. That does come down through the generations. There is no doubt about it. We know of the huge number of suicides. It has to be a priority. If only the reality was out there from both Governments that this should be a priority, this has to be a priority because it will break that intergenerational trauma. It will save money. It will save the health service money. It will save the mental health services money if they could just look at this whole issue and how important it is. The witnesses have given a fantastic presentation today. It was very clear. They do great work. We want to do our best to support them. We are constantly having these discussions. Michelle might have asked but I am not sure what your reply was about when you met with the Tánaiste. What was the feedback? Do you think that it might be a priority or what is your thinking on that?
Ms Judith Thompson
I have met with the Tánaiste on a number of occasions and with the Minister for justice, Charlie Flanagan. I think I have a meeting in the diary for next week as well. I believe there is a good understanding of the issues. I believe there is a sense of it being very difficult to move on. I need to be more reassured that both Governments see this as something which is not only important but urgent and doable.
I propose, as Ms Thompson has just said, that this committee call on that action that she has just referred to and that we write, as a committee, calling for that action. Without wanting to come back in, separate to that I omitted to say that I thought it is appropriate when we are dealing with the issue of the victims and survivors that this committee in whatever capacity would publicly call on those who have not returned the bodies of the disappeared, namely, Seamus Ruddy, Joe Lynskey and Robert Nairac, to provide any information. The Commission for the retrieval of the disappeared is doing its very best. However, without people coming forward with that information the issue of people not having closure remains. It is incumbent on us to publicise the need for people to do that. The fact that Brendan made reference to the fact that people are ageing. People out there have information and it should be provided before it is too late.
Is there anything you want to say?
Mr. Alan Bracknell
To go back to your comments about the Ballymurphy inquest, the big issue there is acknowledgement. It is acknowledging that something happened to someone. Unfortunately not everyone will get the inquest or that level of acknowledgement and that public level of acknowledgement. That does not mean to say that there should not be mechanisms put in place by both Governments that attempt to get that level of acknowledgement. That is where the investigative body has the opportunity of actually looking at it and saying that if a family wants to engage with that sort of process, it is there for them. Everything that can be done will be done to ensure that whatever information is available can be given to the families. There are obviously the other mechanisms there as well. The oral history archive gives the opportunity for families to tell their story and to document in some way what actually happened to the individual - who the individual was. That is what gets lost in an awful lot of this – you are just another figure, you are just another statistic. Unfortunately we talk about the 3,700 deaths but we do not talk about who those individuals were at times. What is important out of any of this process is that we remember who those individuals were. It is not just the people who died in high-profile incidents or who can campaign and have the power to campaign. Everyone should be remembered. There are lots of lost victims so to speak - people who are sitting at home very quietly who have massive issues. They are the people that we need to be reaching out to. That is what this whole process, the Stormont House Agreement legislation, all of that should be about reaching out to those individuals who have not come forward to date, who have unanswered questions. The only way that can be done is if both Governments are prepared to grab the bull by the horns and actually do something positive about it, as opposed to just paying lip-service, which seems to be where it is at at the minute. We met with the NIO a number of weeks ago. It is still collating its response to the consultation. How long does this go on? We need to see some sort of action, not just from the British Government but also from the Irish Government.
Have you had any meetings with anybody in the UK around this, with any Ministers over there.
Ms Judith Thompson
: I and the Victims and Survivors Forum have met with the Secretary of State and the two previous Secretaries of State. We have had a number of meetings with the Northern Ireland Office. In fairness, we have very regular correspondence with them but it about seeing action.
:Through the Chair I propose that the committee write to the Minister for justice and the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste asking for action.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
Do members wish to go into private session? Are there any more questions? No. Do the witnesses wish to make any concluding comments?
Ms Judith Thompson
: I think I probably said most of what I wanted to say. It would be very welcome to see pressure from both Governments. Certainly pressure from this committee is very welcome. We do need action and new institutions on both sides of the Border to deal with this. There is everything that people in this room described in terms of ongoing pain, the impact on this generation, the impact on the next. There is a mental health issue that needs to be taken very seriously on both sides of the Border. There are justice issues which are very connected to that which need to be dealt with on both sides of the Border. I thank you for your time and support today.
Thank you for coming in. As a committee we have met with various victims groups. They are not all the same. Many of the people we have met are different. They are all still hurting. There is a commonality regarding a lot of the people. They certainly want answers. Some do not want to tie in with victims’ groups. Some want to just deal with their own loss. They have all appreciated the fact that if someone actually goes out and listens to them and to their story, that is a really essential part of it. I know that is part of the oral history that you are proposing. The committee really appreciates the time you have given to meet us. I apologise again for the delay in the meeting starting. Certainly your proposals on your submission here today will be part of our submission on this whole area. Please feel welcome to keep in touch with the committee. If you would like to come back at some stage in the future if there some development in relation to this whole victims area or you feel you need greater support, please contact the committee. and are you feel that you need greater support or other please complete contact with the committee.