By Senator John Kerry
It's an overused and oft-quoted phrase that those who fail to study the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. But sometimes there are exceptions even to this axiom when people have worked painstakingly to overcome the most painful of history and decided together to leave something in the past in the interests of exploring a better, more peaceful future.
In Northern Ireland leaders have done the hard work of trying to leave some of the past buried so as not to distract or destroy an effort to build a different future for all who want peace and opportunity. History must not be a weapon against those trying to seize the opportunity of today to build a more promising tomorrow.
In an effort to use history as a learning tool, Boston College undertook a comprehensive oral history project called the Belfast Project. Between 2000 and 2006, the college collected detailed oral histories of Irish Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries, chronicling The Troubles from different perspectives. Participants were promised their interviews would be confidential until their death or until they released BC from the confidentiality agreement.
Last spring that confidentiality was threatened and with it the fragility of efforts by many to overcome a difficult era. Britain is now applying pressure on the U.S. to turn over certain transcripts contained within the Belfast Project, under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty signed by both nations. BC has appealed.
It is my hope that these transcripts remain confidential because for some this has become a matter of life and death. This investigation could endanger a fragile peace process. It is safe to say that any of the crimes that have been described would have occurred prior to the Good Friday Agreement.
The agreement, signed April 10, 1998, meant so many things to so many people. To the North, it meant global legitimacy and to many throughout the rest of Ireland it was a hopeful day that the violence just might be nearing an end. Now that agreement, the spirit in which it was reached, and the U.S. role as a friend to the Irish people, must be protected.
Treaties like the Mutual Legal Assistance are vital, but they were never meant to erode a delicate truce that could lead to more violence.
Today with another hearing in the courts and on this upcoming anniversary of the Good Friday Accords, we should redouble our efforts to reach a solution that keeps the people of Northern Ireland, the United States and Britain focused on a future of peace and prosperity. We must continue the hard work of writing a new history for a people who have known so much pain.