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Editorial: Churches should set out legacy proposals

THE British government remains tin-eared to concerns from all sides as it continues to press ahead with its profoundly flawed Troubles legacy legislation.

The government last week tabled amendments to the controversial Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill but these do not address the central moral weakness of the proposals, namely that they amount to an amnesty for killers.

Victims' groups, the north's political parties, the Irish government and human rights organisations are united in their opposition to the planned legislation.

A bipartisan letter from 27 members of the US Congress – sent to prime minister Rishi Sunak as secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris visits America – says the proposals would "deny justice to thousands of families" and "conceal the truth of the past".

Another important intervention has come from Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin. In a powerful address in St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on Sunday, he argued that peace, reconciliation and forgiveness "will only be progressed by bringing to light the truths that remain hidden and festering about our troubled past".

"It may seem ambitious, but might we in the Churches offer to help develop an agreed truth recovery process to address the legacy of pain and mistrust that continues to hang over us?" he asked, adding: "And might our Churches also work together to create spaces for dialogue at parish, congregation and community level so that all voices can be fully heard about the kind of society and values we want for our children and grandchildren?"

Dr Martin made his remarks during a service to celebrate both the centenary of the Irish Council of Churches and the 50th anniversary of the Ballymascanlon talks, which led to the Irish Inter-Church Meeting and a new era of cooperation and friendship between Catholic and Protestant Churches.

There is, for now, less to celebrate as we near another landmark, the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. There hasn't been a powersharing executive at Stormont for almost a year, with little prospect of it returning soon. And for all the considerable achievements of the Agreement, the failure to deal properly, in a victim-focused way, with the legacy of the Troubles has been a significant factor in the political instability which has been a recurring theme since 1998.

If Stormont is to be restored and have a durable future, it is essential that the legacy of the past is fairly and comprehensively addressed. The Churches may be able to play a role in that process, and should share their proposals.

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