The Project Team from Queen’s University Belfast, the Transitional Justice Institute, and Healing through Remembering, partnered with the Commission for Victims and Survivors to hold a conference on ‘Dealing with the Past’ on 25 February 2014 in the Stormont Hotel.
The conference was intended to inform the Commissioner on Victims and Survivors’ recommendations to the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) to be delivered at the end of March 2014. It also provided a forum to discuss in depth issues surrounding Dealing with the Past after the Haass-O’Sullivan talks were completed in December 2013. The conference was attended by over 250 delegates from a range of victim organisations, civil society groups, government institutions, and academia.
The plenary session was opened by the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors Kathryn Stone who cited the Haass-O’Sullivan proposals and the leadership of victims in healing divisions in Northern Ireland.
Members of the Victims Forum Dealing with the Past Working Group, Peter Heathwood, Errol McDowell, and Rev. Lesley Carroll, then gave their perspectives on the work of the Forum and the need to deal with the legacy of the Troubles. They all emphasized the need for Northern Irish society to work together to prevent the violence being repeated.
Professor Kieran McEvoy then delivered a plenary presentation on the details of the Haass-O’Sullivan proposals, noting it as a serious piece of work which ‘recognises across the political spectrum that we need to do something collectively about the past.’
Members of the Project Team ran four workshops on the key themes of truth (Dr Louise Mallinder), justice (Professor Gordon Anthony), acknowledgement (Professor Kieran McEvoy) and reparations (Dr Luke Moffett). The workshops provided an opportunity for delegates to voice their views and concerns on these issues in light of the Haass-O’Sullivan proposals and continuing unresolved issues. Between 60-80 people attended each workshop. The discussions in the workshops will inform the Commission’s advice to the OFMDFM.
In the final plenary Healing Through Remembering Director Kate Turner chaired the discussion in which respected local journalists Susan McKay and Brian Rowan, summarized the discussions in the workshops. McKay and Rowan provided an overview of where we are now, ending on the note that we need politicians to take the next step in dealing with the past in a comprehensive way.
After the conference closed, the project team along with staff in the Commission of Victims and Survivors shared their thoughts over dinner with the members of the Haass-O’Sullivan negotiation teams from four of the five political parties in the Northern Ireland Executive.