Villiers calls for ‘proportionate’ focus on paramilitaries rather than state

NI Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

NI Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

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The Northern Ireland Secretary is to call for “proportionate” focus on wrongdoing by republicans and loyalists rather than the police as part of future measures to heal divisions over the conflict.

Many processes for addressing the legacy of the past - during which thousands were killed or maimed amid 30 years of bombings and shootings - have almost exclusively concentrated on the activities of security forces, Theresa Villiers will argue, rather than paramilitaries who were responsible for most cases.

The devolved ministerial Executive at Stormont is spending more than £30 million a year on historical matters, with police trawling hundreds of thousands of documents, in part to investigate shootings carried out by former officers or soldiers.

Ms Villiers will say: “At least with a new process, agreed by Northern Ireland’s political leaders, there is scope to write in from the start the need for an objective balance and with proper weight and a proportionate focus on the wrongdoing of paramilitaries...rather than the almost exclusive concentration on the activities of the state which characterises so many of the processes currently under way.”

Dozens of inquests are probing Troubles killings while civil High Court cases are being taken in Belfast by victims alleging state collusion in murder.

The PSNI has reopened some criminal investigations, has a dedicated team of detectives to probe old cases dating back to before the start of the conflict in 1968 for fresh leads and has to decide whether it is safe to disclose old records during myriad inquests.

While many unionists venerate former soldiers and members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary for holding the line against republican terrorists, some nationalists accuse state forces of adopting a shoot to kill policy, cooperating with loyalist terror gangs and ensuring people needlessly lost their lives.

Victims on both sides have demanded justice for the loss of loved ones while human rights lawyers have argued that truth recovery is vital to help heal deep wounds which still exist in Northern Ireland society.

Five-party political talks broke down before the New Year on dealing with controversial loyal order and republican parades through neighbourhoods where they are not welcome, the catalyst for serious street violence every summer.

Other issues on the agenda included the flying of Union flags from official buildings and establishing structures to address the past and victims’ needs.

Ms Villiers will say the controversy over Government letters given to around 200 fugitive republicans telling them they were not wanted by police, following the collapse of the prosecution of John Downey for the Hyde Park bombing which killed four soldiers in 1982, demonstrates the need to deal with the past.

She will add during a speech in Belfast that the Government is prepared to compromise to help bring about agreement between local politicians.

“I appreciate the understandable concern that new structures and processes could lead to a one-sided approach which focuses on the minority of deaths in which the state was involved rather than the great majority which were solely the responsibility of the terrorists from whichever part of the community they came.”

She will maintain that a fresh approach is needed due to increasing pressure which the status quo is placing on Northern Ireland’s institutions.

“There is scope for structured oversight by bodies representing different shades of opinion to try to keep the process fair and historically accurate...and to prevent it being hijacked by any one particular interest group or viewpoint.

“As we approach another marching season...there is no doubt that an agreement on the way forward on flags, parading and the past...even in outline...would send a powerful global message about the ability of Northern Ireland’s politicians to find solutions even to the most diverse of issues.

“Crucially though I also believe that agreement on the Haass agenda could free up the space for politicians to focus more on other issues that are critical to our future...such as rebalancing the economy, reforming the public sector and building a genuinely shared future.”

She will call for Stormont politicians to make difficult choices - pressing ahead with the adoption of the National Crime Agency to tackle organised crime and welfare reforms from Westminster.

“That choice rests with political leaders here but so too does the cost of that choice. And there should be no doubt that the cost of that choice could rise steeply in future years.”

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