Wrong to link legacy issues with welfare

Posted By: August 12, 2015

“Still, it’s worth pointing out that her[Theresa Villiers] disengagement is only matched by that of the Irish government and two ministers of foreign affairs who have been Little Sir Echoes since 2011.”

Brian Feeney. Rush News ( Belfast).Wednesday, August 12, 20

Interesting little item on BBC Radio 4’s “The World This Weekend” on Sunday. Baroness Nuala O’Loan and writer Susan McKay both had penalty kicks at the failure of the British government to do anything about their obligation to deal with the past and make no mistake, it is an obligation —recognised internationally by both the EU and the UN.

Susan McKay told the British audience that sectarianism was as bad if not worse than ever and that while over £20 million had been spent dealing with the ludicrous loyalist encampment at the top of the Woodvale Road, it is “outrageous” that community groups and others trying to deal with sectarianism were having their funds slashed.

What was important about Baroness O’Loan’s contribution was first, that she was given the opportunity to reel off the number of killings, shootings, bombings and attempted bombings and other attacks in the year to March 2015 to demonstrate that peace is fragile.

Secondly, and more relevant to the points below, she was able to list in figures the vast numbers of people in The North suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, other psychiatric problems, bereavement, the lasting effects of serious injury, the increase in people applying for counselling, the high incidence of alcoholism and prescription drug dependency.

Her conclusion was that for the British government to tie up welfare reform with dealing with the past was “immoral”. As she said, they are two separate issues and should be negotiated separately.

As you’ve read here before, there is no reason why progress cannot be made on implementing the aspects of the Stormont House Agreement dealing with the past, flags and Orange marches except that our proconsul[Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers] won’t allow it. None of these problems depends on welfare cuts.

In fact the past, flags and marches have been the subject of failed negotiations for at least five years. In the case of the past the cowardice of the Labour government meant the proposals of Eames-Bradley were binned in 2009. In 2010 the DUP and Sinn Féin produced a piece of nonsense which was rejected by the Orange Order. In short there have been on-off talks on these matters for the best part of six years.

Baroness O’Loan may have been direct enough to call the stance of the British government immoral but she was too kind to say that tying progress to welfare cuts is in reality another British government ploy to delay further any serious attempt to deal with the past.

In July the UN Human Rights Committee criticised the ‘quality and pace of the process of promoting accountability in relation to the Troubles’. They also pointed to the absence of ‘a comprehensive framework for dealing with conflict-related serious human rights violations’, the fact that the planned PSNI Legacy Investigations Branch is not independent or compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights and that there are unconscionable delays in coroners inquests though they didn’t mention reams of documents mysteriously ‘lost’ and ridiculous redactions to render documents useless.

In these circumstances it suits our proconsul to be able to claim that it is the fault of local parties that progress on dealing with the past has stalled even though it is the responsibility of her government to set in place proper procedures. It should also be pointed out that the British government has offered £150 million over the next five years, a completely inadequate sum but totally unrelated to a reduced welfare regime.

In respect of all these issues the role of the Irish government over the past five years has been lamentable, not least in agreeing to allow welfare cuts to be the priority after years lost wrangling about the other matters, the real priority affecting politics at every level in the north.

Martin McGuinness said the current clueless proconsul is the most disengaged he has ever dealt with but she’s not completely daft. Remember it was successive Conservative governments 1970-74 and 1979-97 which were responsible for the most egregious planned human rights violations here.

Still, it’s worth pointing out that her disengagement is only matched by that of the Irish government and two ministers of foreign affairs who have been Little Sir Echoes since 2011.