Secretary of state urged to deliver legacy mechanisms without delay

Posted By: July 06, 2019

WARNING: Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson called for a clear action plan for dealing with the legacy of the past 

John Manley. Irish News. Belfast.Saturday, July 6, 2019

VICTIMS Commissioner Judith Thompson last night called on the secretary of state to outline a “clear action plan” for dealing with the legacy of the past, arguing that any further delay risked “tensions and unrest.”

She was speaking following the publication of a summary of responses to the British government’s legacy consultation, which ran for 21 weeks last year.

The consultation sought to gauge opinion on mechanisms for dealing with the past which was announced nearly five years ago as part of the Stormont House Agreement.

The mechanisms, which include a new independent investigation unit and a truth recovery body, are designed to probe and document the circumstances of hundreds of killings carried out during the Troubles.

The 17,000 responses showed a clear majority were opposed to a statute of limitations or amnesty.

The controversial proposal has been advocated for security force veterans by several senior Tory figures and backbenchers.

“The clear majority of all respondents to the consultation argued that a statute of limitations or amnesty would not be appropriate for Troubles-related matters,” the summary stated.

“Many were clear that victims, survivors, and families are entitled to pursue criminal justice outcomes, and such a move could risk progress towards reconciliation.”

It said there was a “strong sense that the new mechanisms must be fair and not favor any particular group.”

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) acknowledged that some respondents favored “drawing a line” under the past, arguing that security force members should be afforded protections given concessions handed to paramilitaries during the peace process, such as the early release scheme and ‘letters of comfort.’

The summary document highlighted that some veterans groups also argued against an amnesty.

“Among organizations that represent former security forces, some argued against any type of statute of limitations or amnesty for former soldiers and police – they felt those they represented would have no difficulty in answering for their actions and would wish to see terrorist organizations and their members being held accountable.

“In addition, they felt that granting blanket immunity from prosecution could create a misleading impression of moral equivalence between security forces and terrorists.”

Several victims’ groups proactively encouraged people to engage, providing templates to help people compile responses. There were 50 different template variants detected among the responses.

The Time for Truth campaign, which advocates for victims of state violence, collated the most significant number of responses – delivering 6,000 to the NIO last October.

Responding to the summary, Ms. Thompson described it as a “step towards dealing with the pain, injury, and loss experienced by so many during decades of the Troubles.”

She said she was glad the NIO acknowledged the recommendation that all previous Historical Enquiries Team cases would be re-examined through a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU).

“I believe this is important to address concerns that the HIU must be fair, balanced and cognizant of the rule of law,” she said.

The victims’ commissioner said there had already been “enough delay” and that it would be unfair to raise the expectations of victims and survivors and then not deliver.

She urged Secretary of State Karen Bradley to provide a “clear action plan and time frame for delivering on the needs of people who want the truth, justice, and acknowledgment.”

Sinn Féin’s Linda Dillon welcomed the responses’ publication and called for an “end to the British government’s stalling in implementing the mechanisms.”

“Any further delays or stalling from the British government will only serve to undermine public confidence in the consultation, undermine the policy intent of the Stormont House Agreement and, more worryingly, further disappoint and alienate victims,” she said.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the consultation could “help develop a better way forward.”

She said a UK-wide definition of a victim would have a “transformative impact on how we deal with the past.”

“Another key concern for the DUP, is that justice must always remain open to victims of terrorism – justice must also be seen to be done,” she said.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said it was noteworthy that a majority rejected the concept of a statute of limitations, including many coming from a security force background.

“It is rightly recognized such an approach would undermine the contribution of all of those who served and protected the community in line with the rule of law,” he said.

Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie said the responses vindicated his party’s assessment of the Stormont House Agreement as flawed.

“We must be careful that we do not end up with a process which gives in to who those shout the loudest rather than seeking to do what is right, and delivers a balanced, fair, equitable and proportionate solution,” he said.