Research Fellow: Dr Luke Moffett
Project Partner: Healing Through Remembering
Framed by an exploration of the meaning of ‘public interest’, this project explores the inter-relationship between amnesties or amnesty-like measures and historical prosecutions in the Northern Ireland transition. Although people will inevitably make up their own mind about what they consider to be the best way forward on these matters, the purpose of this project is to provide information on the international, historical and legal context to amnesties, prosecution and the public interest in order to ensure that the public debate is as well informed as possible.
The challenges associated with ‘dealing with the past’ in Northern Ireland remain obvious even fifteen years after the Good Friday Agreement. Currently, there are a number of different past-related formal investigative processes:
- the Office of the Police Ombudsman is examining historic allegations of police malfeasance including allegations of collusion
- the Historical Enquiries Team (as part of the PSNI) is investigating all deaths related to the conflict
- several inquests into contentious deaths during the conflict are before the coroner
- civil cases on conflict-related deaths and internment are before the courts
- several public inquiries have been held into high profile killings
- the Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains is investigating the fate of disappeared persons
- many ex-prisoners are challenging the legality of their convictions by having their cases reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission
However, even with all these processes significant gaps in uncovering the truth about the conflict remain. A number of bodies, most notably the Consultative Group of the Past (2009), have recommended that an overarching truth-recovery mechanism should be established.
Regardless of whether a truth commission is created, in seeking to investigate past crimes, Northern Ireland, like other societies which have struggled with the past, has had to deal with a number of tensions. These have included, most obviously, the tension between efforts at truth recovery (which almost inevitably involve some discussion on amnesty-like measures designed to incentivise former combatants or state actors to tell ‘the truth’ about their past activities), and the desire by some actors to continue to secure prosecutions for past-related criminal activities.
To date, both amnesties and prosecution have to some degree already been used in addressing certain cases relating to the conflict. For example, information provided by individuals for the Commission for the Location for Victims’ Remains as well as the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday could not be used in criminal proceedings against those individuals. On the other hand, investigations by the HET have resulted in a number of prosecutions.
This project builds on a previous AHRC-funded project entitled Beyond Legalism: Amnesties, Transition and Conflict Transformation, in which McEvoy and Mallinder (with Prof Brice Dickson) conducted a comparative examination of the use of amnesties in Argentina, South Africa, Uganda, Uruguay, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In all of those contexts the use of amnesties was controversial in different ways and indeed lively conversations concerning the utility, viability and desirability of past-related prosecutions were key themes. The knowledge gained from that research will inform the contemporary debates in Northern Ireland.
In addition, the project partner, Healing Through Remembering has developed a reputation as a key ‘past-related’ non-governmental organisation working across communities and sectors in Northern Ireland. Again, this partnership between the technical and international experience of the academic team and the grass-roots credibility of Healing Through Remembering is designed to make a contribution to this important public debate.
The project is for 12 months. It will entail a series of meetings, briefings, discussions and seminars with key actors as well as a major conference.
The project is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). This website contains under the resources section briefing papers produced by the project’s team, reports by the partner organisation Healing Through Remembering, links to relevant international organisations, as well as bibliographies on relevant scholarly and policy documents.