The government need to remain in listening mode if their recently laid Legacy and Reconciliation Bill is to get any support. That’s the key message coming from newly appointed Victims’ Commissioner, Ian Jeffers.
The Secretary of State has said he believes this will give people a reason and motivation to come forward. The Commissioner is less sure that’s the case.
“Unless new evidence turns up that implicates someone, and they then decide to cooperate – which I’m not denying could happen – there seems to be no compelling reason for someone who is already escaping any degree of accountability to all of a sudden come forward and release information they have sat on thus far.”
The conditional amnesty indicates a degree of change since the ‘blanket amnesty’ approach outlined in the UK Government’s Command Paper last year. However, the mention of any amnesty at all has not been favoured by the majority of victims and survivors or the groups that represent them.
“The 12 week period for consultation is going to be crucial if the government are to build trust amongst victims and survivors on the way forward,” says Jeffers.
Other elements of the Bill included reference to official and oral histories being made available in an accessible way to the population. Jeffers believes these are elements of the Bill have potential to help our society move forward.
“There can be great merit in using a collection of rich narratives around the past from as an education tool, not just in the factual, historical learning, but in giving the opportunity for dialogue around the reality of living through conflict.
“We have young people who were born after the Belfast Good Friday Agreement who are still living in the shadows of The Troubles.
“As well as my prime role in advocating for victims and survivors, I believe we have a collective role in improving education for everyone, so that we can better understand how we got here and make sure we aren’t condemned to repeat it.
Resolving the amnesty issue is a huge hurdle to realising any of the potential positives within the Bill. I hope the Secretary of State remains open to further amendments before the Bill reaches its final stages.”