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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 April 2005, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
'Past haunts the peace process'

By Kevin Connolly
BBC Ireland correspondent

Rosemary Nelson's funeral
The inquiry into Mrs Nelson's death will focus on the local police

In Northern Ireland the past continues to haunt the present and shape the future.

The power-sharing government and assembly created by the Good Friday Agreement remain in the state of suspension which now appears to be their natural form. There is no immediate prospect of their being restored.

With the future uncertain, and unpromising, the past has become an increasingly important battleground for Northern Irish politicians.

Lord Saville's inquiry into the killing of unarmed demonstrators by British soldiers in Derry on Bloody Sunday in 1972 is the largest of the inquiries.

The common theme was collusion - the suspicion that agents of the state had helped, advised, encouraged or even armed paramilitary killers for sinister reasons of their own
Kevin Connolly

It has already been sitting for more than six years and has cost more than 150 million.

Significantly Tony Blair agreed to establish Saville as a concession to nationalist opinion at what seemed at the time to be a crucial phase in the peace process negotiations.

That pattern was repeated during another intensive round of bargaining at Weston Park in Shropshire.

Car in which Rosemary Nelson died
The bomb which killed Rosemary Nelson was planted by local loyalists

There Mr Blair agreed to refer a number of cases to a retired judge, promising inquiries wherever the judge thought it necessary.

The cases referred included the murders of two Catholic solicitors murdered by loyalists - Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.

In addition there was the killing of a young Catholic, Robert Hamill, who was kicked to death by a loyalist mob in Portadown and the murder of a loyalist killer Billy Wright who was shot dead by republican paramilitaries inside the Maze prison compound.

The common theme was collusion - the suspicion that agents of the state had helped, advised, encouraged or even armed paramilitary killers for sinister reasons of their own.

The case of Robert Hamill fell slightly outside that template - there the allegation was that a police patrol had stood idly by while he was killed.

Every one of those cases involves the grief and pain of bereavement for families who still do not know exactly how or why husbands, mothers or sons came to die
Kevin Connolly

In the interests of political balance - in other words to defuse the unionist suspicion that the inquiries were somehow targeted at them - two other cases were also referred to the retired Canadian judge Peter Cory.

They were murders where it was suspected that the IRA had been given information by sympathisers in the Irish police about the movements of their targets - a high court judge and his wife, and two senior RUC officers.

If the British government was hoping that the judge would play the establishment game and recommend inquiries in some cases but not others then it was disappointed.

Judge Cory recommended full inquiries in every case - and in doing so drew attention to the human dimension in all this.

Every one of those cases involves the grief and pain of bereavement for families who still do not know exactly how or why husbands, mothers or sons came to die.

For the family of Rosemary Nelson things move a step further towards closure with the opening of the inquiry into her 1999 murder.

The booby-trap bomb under her car which killed her was planted by local loyalists - the inquiry will focus on the role that may have been played by local police officers who she always accused of threatening her.

It is worth remembering too, that there are plenty of grieving families in Northern Ireland for whom there will be no inquiry
Kevin Connolly

But the case of Pat Finucane, another Catholic lawyer murdered 10 years before Rosemary Nelson, continues to pose much more substantial political difficulties.

We already know that British military intelligence officers, and their agents, played a substantial role in his murder by loyalist paramilitaries.

The government has legislated to create a new type of tribunal which would be very firmly under the control of government ministers and which would fall very far short of the sort of independent, public investigation which the Finucane family is demanding.

The Finucane family will not accept that sort of limitation and so the argument over the nature of the institution continues, 16 years after Pat Finucane's murder.

It is worth remembering too, that there are plenty of grieving families in Northern Ireland for whom there will be no inquiry.

They are cases where there was no obvious political dimension beyond the fact that a murder happened to suit the sinister purpose of one paramilitary group or another at some moment in the troubles; the killings of many members of the security forces, for example, fall into that category - a source of resentment to Unionists.

The Nelson inquiry and the others like it might run on for years, as the Bloody Sunday tribunal has and at least to individual families they offer hope of closure.

But in general terms Northern Ireland's troubled relationship with the pain of the past is very far from being resolved.


SEE ALSO
Inquiry into Nelson murder opens
19 Apr 05 |  Northern Ireland
Collusion cover-up denied
01 Apr 04 |  Northern Ireland
Cory reports: what was said
01 Apr 04 |  Northern Ireland
Inquiries into 'collusion' murders
01 Apr 04 |  Northern Ireland
Unresolved deaths: A question of collusion?
02 Aug 01 |  Northern Ireland

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