Helsinki Commission holds hearing on Northern Ireland
Fr. Sean Mc Manus (center) with two of the witnesses who spoke at the Helsinki Commission hearing on Northern Ireland. Ciaran McAirt (left) testified on behalf of the victims of the McGurk's Bar bombing and John Teggart (right) spoke on behalf of the Ballymurphy Massacre Committee.
The U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (The Helsinki Commission) held a hearing Wednesday entitled "Northern Ireland: Why Justice in Individual Cases Matters." The hearing was chaired by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ).
The Helsinki Commission is an independent agency of the federal government which monitors compliance with the Helsinki Accords and promotes human rights, democracy and economic, environmental and military cooperation in 56 countries. This was the commission’s twelfth hearing on Northern Ireland.
At the hearing, families of Irish citizens killed in the violence in Northern Ireland called for independent investigations and accountability for past abuses by security forces. The commission reviewed provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, including those relating to policing and the administration of justice in the region.
On the day, testimony included statements by John Finucane, son of Patrick Finucane, a human rights lawyer murdered by loyalist paramilitaries; Raymond McCord, father of Raymond McCord, Jr., who was also murdered by loyalist paramilitaries; John Teggart, son of Daniel Teggart, victim of the 1971 Ballymurphy massacre; and Ciarán McAirt, grandson of Kitty Irvine, a victim of the McGurk’s Bar bombing. Jane Winter, Director of British Irish Rights Watch, also spoke.
Congressman Smith, who is also Chairman of the House Human Rights Subcommittee and an executive member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, was clear on the need for accountability.
“Today family members of people killed in Northern Ireland will tell us about their efforts to learn the truth about possible British government collusion or complicity in their loved one’s murder,” he said. “I join my voice with theirs to say: enough obfuscation and stonewalling. We must continue to press for the truth…and continue to press until justice has been served.”
Mr. Smith said he planned to meet with the visiting British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, to discuss longstanding concerns. He called for more openness from the British Government and criticized both its continued refusal to hold an independent public inquiry into police collusion with paramilitaries, and the 2005 Inquiries Act which makes such inquiries more difficult.
“Equivocating on the issue of truth and justice for past crimes will only embolden those elements responsible for them from the resulting impunity,” Smith said.
“The time has come to focus truth’s light on the murky relationships and collusion that existed between the security forces and paramilitary organizations in Northern Ireland and hold those responsible to account.”
Fr. Sean Mc Manus, president of the Capitol Hill-based Irish National Caucus, emphasized the significance of such a hearing for groups such as the Ballymurphy Massacre Committee, before praising Mr. Smith’s ongoing efforts.
“This [is] the twelfth hearing Congressman Smith has held on human rights in Northern Ireland,” he said. “Nobody has ever come near that remarkable record in the entire history of the U.S. Congress.