Let historians, not lawyers, deal with past, legacy conference told

Ken Funston, whose brother was murdered by the IRA, addresses Saturday's seminar on legacy legislation at Malone House, Barnett Demense, Belfast
Ken Funston, whose brother was murdered by the IRA, addresses Saturday's seminar on legacy legislation at Malone House, Barnett Demense, Belfast

Delegates from the world of law, politics and the media have come together in Belfast to highlight what they believe to be the risks of proposed new legislation to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

The event, Legacy Legislation Conference, was held at Malone House, off the Malone Road, on Saturday.

It was organised by UUP councillor Jeffrey Dudgeon in advance of public consultation on the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) bodies to deal with the past.

The delegates included solicitor Neil Faris, political lecturer Dr Cillian McGrattan, Dr Andrew Charles from the community and voluntary sector, Ken Funston of the South East Fermanagh Foundation, solicitor and peace campaigner Trevor Ringland, former UUP MP Danny Kinahan, author Dr William Matchett and Ben Lowry, deputy editor of the News Letter.

Mr Dudgeon warned that the proposals have an undue focus on the actions of the state, while Mr Faris cited the police ombudsman report into the Loughinisland bombing as an example of a serious contravention of natural justice in dealing with the past, recommending that the SHA be “abandoned”.

Dr Charles argued that the peace process has polarised communities, advocating voluntary coalition as the way forward.

But Dr McGrattan said one option was for unionists to “walk away and allow nationalist energies to dissipate” as the current academic focus on ‘transitional justice’ has preordained standards of peace which reflect a republican outlook. This “marginalises parcels of history which are not wanted” and assumes that “the state was the main perpetrator”. He recommended taking the past from lawyers and giving it to historians instead.

Mr Ringland, meanwhile, advocated a future with a strong cross-community and reconciliation focus, an international standard of democracy and human rights and an agreed “statement of wrongs” about the past.

Closing the conference, Mr Lowry talked about the sweeping definition of collusion and how it was central to the advancing republican depiction of the Troubles.

It is, Mr Lowry said, “the single greatest aide to the pro-IRA narrative”.

“No person with any credibility would deny that there were many instances of illegality and collusion. My point is that they were many in absolute terms, scores of cases, but tiny in proportionate terms, out of the 3,700 killings.

“The abiding fact about loyalist terrorism is how bad its intelligence was.”