Nervous about amnesty?

I get very nervous when I hear talk about amnesty. It isn’t that I am against the debate or even the very idea but rather that I am concerned we are talking about what is legally impossible. It is true that there is also feeling in some sectors of our community that such a discussion should not be on the table at all. The unionist leaning towards seeking justice works against any notion of amnesty. But it may also be the case that the law will not allow it. So before we get too far into this there are people we need to hear from. We need to hear from those who hold fast to the right to an inquiry. We need to hear from the politicians. We need to hear from the Attorney General and the legal community in general and we need to hear from Europe. We need to hear if amnesty is possible, on what terms and what it would take from across a society as well as from European law, via Westminster most likely, to really get amnesty onto the table. During the work of the Consultative Group on the Past we did not spend too much time on the notion of amnesty it is true. Early in the process there was a leak that we were talking about amnesty. It was not the case but the reaction gave us a steer as to what society would tolerate. Amnesty would not have been tolerated at that time. We did spend some considerable on the notion of immunity and the report focusses on the creation of a space into which people could come to speak their truth and for that time and place there was immunity from the law. It would not, though, we came to understand, be easy to achieve. Our understanding was that derogation from European Law would have to be sought and indeed fought for. That, we believed, was the best we could do and the best that was achievable. However, we also believed that with the utter will of a society from top to bottom and including every side then perhaps a way could be found to make amnesty possible. My suspicion is that there are prices to be paid for that and paths to be walked that there is no indication our political leadership from any party is ready to walk. So, if there is anyone out there from the legal community who can shed some light then now is the time before we all get too carried away with something that may not be possible. And if there are possibilities in this then we need to know all that it would take to achieve it – all! Clearly there is a need for people to get things off their chests and clearly there is a need for some people to dig out the truth, or a truth at any rate. What safeguards can be put in place to allow that to happen and what influences can be brought to bear to bring everyone into the process? We need to structure the discussion and pull it together with a focus on actually dealing with things. I’m not sure we are there yet but in my view if we don’t get there soon then there is every danger of things getting worse and not better. There are good news stories to be celebrated but there is a little part of me that wonders if those good news stories are not now playing the role of lifting our eyes for just a moment from what needs to be done for the health of society and for the health and well-being of future generations. And there is a little bit of me that wonders too if things aren’t being changed behind my back leaving me standing in scenery that I don’t recognise but with feelings and memories that I am only too familiar with and which will assert themselves for my security. I worry more that I am not the only one with such concerns. For a secure and more reconciled future we all need to be involved in the work of remodelling the landscape in which we live rather than living in an uncertain world in which the scenery changes almost imperceptibly until we hardly recognise it but the landscape of sectarianism, divided memory, hurt and grief remain the same.

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