Scrapping of Police Ombudsman investigations

Posted By: November 20, 2023


Distributed to Congress by Irish National Caucus

“Although amnesty is offered to others besides British soldiers, everyone knows it’s to stop investigations going to ‘to the very top’—which in the British system is ‘the King-in-Parliament.’” ——Fr. Sean McManus.

Scrapping of Police Ombudsman investigations means Troubles victims have been failed again
The Conservatives have ignored victims’ wishes. What will Labor do differently? —Irish News Editorial

Irish News Editorial. Belfast.  Monday, November 20, 2023.

In another example of how the British government’s cynical approach to the legacy of the Troubles is going against the wishes of victims’ families, the Police Ombudsman will be unable to complete around 400 investigations linked to the past.

Although it was strenuously opposed by victims’ groups and – in a rare display of unanimity – the north’s main political parties, as well as significant opposition at Westminster and from the Irish government, the Conservatives pressed ahead with their deeply flawed plan.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act passed into law in September. It sweeps all legacy matters into a new body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).

Key weaknesses include offering perpetrators an effective amnesty for Troubles-related offences and ending victims’ hopes of seeing their cases being investigated to a criminal standard and dealt with by the courts. Civil cases and inquests that have not reached their findings stage by next May will be stopped.

Cases being investigated by the Police Ombudsman’s Historical Investigations Directorate are also caught up in the move to the ICRIR structures.

The Ombudsman has around 450 Troubles-linked complaints on its books and estimates it may only be able to report on up to 70 of those by May. It has already written to hundreds of families to inform them it won’t be able to complete its investigations before the ICRIR takes over.

There are clear problems with existing methods of dealing with the past. But the British government has shown it isn’t interested in solutions that work for victims, let alone providing a system that victims even want.

As Margaret Gibson, whose brother Gerard was shot dead by the British army in west Belfast in 1972, says, her family has been let down “so many times” by the state. That includes an inadequate RUC investigation and an aborted PSNI Historical Enquires Team case. “Now the Police Ombudsman have failed us as well despite the fact that we have had a complaint lodged with them for over 10 years,” she says.

Whoever this approach to justice serves, it isn’t victims or their families. Delay and obfuscation benefits only perpetrators, including state agencies.

Shadow secretary of state Hilary Benn has said Labor will repeal the Tory legislation if, as looks likely, it wins power. It would be useful to hear more from Mr. Benn about what that will mean in practice.