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Last Updated: Monday, 9 June, 2003, 19:44 GMT 20:44 UK
Question of truth and justice
By Brian Rowan
BBC Northern Ireland security editor

In this place of many deaths there is now the question of how best to close the past and how to give victims their place in the new Northern Ireland.

Nearly 2,000 murders remain unsolved in Northern Ireland

More than half the killings of the Troubles, some 1,800, are unsolved, no one has been brought to justice, and, in truth, there is now little chance of securing convictions.

That is the frank admission of Chief Constable Hugh Orde who believes there now needs to be a debate on how best to move forward, and what takes the place of continuing investigations into the past.

"I have made it very clear, when I have met families of victims, that in an evidential sense we are going to be struggling to secure a conviction," he told BBC News Online.

"So, a conviction is an unlikely outcome, even if you put a lot of resources for a long period of time into one or two cases.

"Now, the debate around what takes its place, is a far wider debate, and I've always said that's a debate which the police should be engaged in but should not be leading.

"I think it's an issue for the families, it's an issue for government, it's an issue for the people of Northern Ireland, who need to form their own view on what sort of process it would be that would bring greatest satisfaction to the greatest number of people."

There are parts of terrorist organisations, or freedom fighters, whatever they call themselves, that they won't let you into
Denis Bradley
Policing Board vice chairman

For Mr Orde there is a difficult balance to be found between policing the present and investigating the past.

His personal view is that Northern Ireland may well require a truth and justice process - a table of explanation at which everyone says their piece.

It is something that others are already thinking about.

In the new policing order in Northern Ireland, the Policing Board - a committee of politicians and independent members - is the watchdog body tasked with holding the chief constable and his officers to account.

The board's vice chairman, Denis Bradley, has already put his mind to the huge issue of how closure is achieved in a place where the wounds are still open and the hurt is still felt.

Mr Bradley believes it is important that it is made clear from the outset what is possible and what is not.

"You cannot have justice and truth for everyone," he said.

"There are parts of government intelligence that no government in the world will let you close to.

Chief Constable Huge Orde
Hugh Orde: Truth and reconcilation commission may be required
"They may let you skirt around it, but they won't let you into it. And there are parts of terrorist organisations or freedom fighters, whatever they call themselves, that they won't let you into either."

Mr Bradley's suggestion is that a small panel of people of stature be tasked with finding out as much truth about the past as is possible.

That panel may include a lawyer, but Mr Bradley says any commission should not be "led by the law".

"I have a total conviction that if you let it be led by lawyers that you will kill it before it gets off the ground."

What Mr Orde and Mr Bradley are doing is opening the debate on one of the most difficult issues to be resolved as part of the peace process.


There is not yet a structured debate, there are still more questions than answers.

But Northern Ireland may be inching towards the type of truth and justice process tried on another continent - tried in South Africa where more than 30,000 people told their stories to a commission.

However, there is a warning that the story telling of truth and reconciliation is only a part of what is needed in Northern Ireland.

Ramon Kapur is a consultant clinical psychologist, who is adamant that properly thought through help must be available for the victims of Northern Ireland's "Long War".

"In the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, they found that while it was helpful it actually didn't have any therapeutic effects," he told BBC News Online.

"So, the deep down feelings didn't get talked about, and that's what we need, deep down feelings to be talked about.

"People need to resolve the loss of loved ones. You need the consulting room not the court room to get feelings off your mind."

The debate about the past and how it is closed has begun, but it is agreed that it will take much more time to find the truth and justice model that might work in Northern Ireland.

Chief Constable of the PSNI Hugh Orde
"The time may well be right for the debate to take place"

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