'Please, please pray that we will get justice'

Satrurday was spent at the SDLP annual party conference in Armagh. It was normal party conference stuff. A very early start, a very late finish and lots of resolutions, speeches and delegates to be talked to at our Amnesty stand and around and about. Party leader, Mark Durkan, even name-checked Amnesty International in his leader's speech, noting his active support for our campaign to ban cluster munitions.

But, in the midst of all this standard fare and furious activity, was the most extraordinarily powerful party fringe meeting.

Organised by the West Belfast branch of the SDLP, the event addressed the repeated denial of justice over forty years of Northern Ireland's conflict (and 'peace') .

Assembled on the panel were Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four (15 years in prison); Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six (16 years in prison); Brid Boyle, who lost a family member in a series of 11 fatal shootings by the Paras over three days in August 1971, following the introduction of internment; Raymond McCord, whose son, Raymond Jr, was beaten to death in 1997 by UVF paramilitaries protected by the police; and Briege Quinn, mother of Paul Quinn who was beaten to death, allegedly by IRA members, in Monaghan in 2007.

Each spoke movingly about their loss – years wasted in prison, haunting memories of loved ones being done to death – and about their determination that justice should be delivered where it has been denied, whatever the identity of those responsible for the human rights abuse: republican, loyalist, police or army. Briege Quinn's moving testimony brought tears not just to her eyes, but to those of many at this event. There's a short BBC filmed report here.

Collectively, all their stories were a timely reminder of just some of the issues still to be addressed around the legacy of Northern Ireland's conflict. Whether or not this society – people and government – is up to the task, may be revealed this Wednesday with the publication of the much-trailed report of the Consultative Group on the Past, headed by Archbishop Robin Eames and Denis Bradley. Amnesty will be watching closely to ensure that justice is not betrayed, as it has been, all too frequently, over the last four decades.

Belfast and Beyond will revisit this topic at that time.

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