Ombudsman: Legacy structures are imbalanced but Stormont deal offers better way forward

Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire
Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire

On Thursday, the News Letter published an article by Trevor Ringland in which he expressed concerns about the legacy imbalance.

He suggested that Dr Michael Maguire, the Police Ombudsman, Sir Declan Morgan, the Lord Chief Justice, and Barra McGrory, the Director of Public Prosecutions and others speak about the likelihood that only partial truth recovery on the past is possible.

Mr Ringland did not focus on any one person or organisation in his article, but even so we offered all three an opportunity to respond.

The DPP’s office thanked us but said that on this occasion they did not want to comment on an article that was not aimed at any one person or organisation.

A spokesman for Sir Declan said: “The Lord Chief Justice is planning to meet with the Victims and Survivors Forum later this month and does not plan to make any further statement in advance of this.”

Mr Maguire has written the following piece for publication:

• VICTIMS HAVE WAITED YEARS FOR ANSWERS

The current arrangements for dealing with the past are fragmented, unequal and underfunded and represent a significant imbalance.

The people who suffer most are the families of those who have been killed and injured during ‘the Troubles,’ many of whom have waited years for answers.

There are also severe consequences for society generally as grievances and untruths pass from generation to generation.

The powers of my office do not extend to investigating other security force agencies, the government or the suspected terrorists, for example.

There is also an imbalance between the legal requirement and demand for investigations of the past and the limited resources made available to deliver them.

My office has had a 300% increase in cases since 2012 and a 13% decrease in budget to deal with these cases.

One solution proposed by Trevor Ringland (January 5) is to suspend investigations. As a society it would be dangerous position to agree that we do not undertake investigations into serious criminal allegations because of political considerations.

A suspension would also have a significant impact on families like those bereaved following events at Kingsmill, La Mon and the Shankill Bombing.

Those who committed these crimes have never been brought to justice and there have been serious allegations that police protected informants or, as in the case of the Shankill bombing, had prior knowledge of the attack and did nothing.

Are we really saying that their cases, and many others like them, are not to be investigated or such assertions to go unchallenged?

It is worth noting that my office has published 14 investigations into public events during the Troubles, in 11 of which we found no evidence of police collusion with terrorists.

The failure to deal with the past is not intractable.

The structures proposed in the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) if implemented would potentially offer a better way of addressing issues. They offer a more comprehensive mechanism for undertaking criminal investigations through the Historical Investigations Unit, which would include dealing with the State agencies AND with the paramilitaries who committed the majority of murders.

They would be better funded and families who currently have no hope of their case being investigated may get some answers.

They offer alternative structures to deal with issues outside the constraints of the criminal justice system, including truth recovery and oral history initiatives.

Such arrangements would allow both my office and the PSNI to focus on contemporary policing issues.

There are risks. There are those who may not cooperate and the chances of getting substantial numbers of people to face justice may be limited. As a society we will have to live with the consequences of may be produced.

They may not be the perfect solution, but the proposals in my view take us forward.

The real imbalance and injustice would be to continue with the status quo or worse, to do nothing at all.

• Michael Maguire has been the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland since 2012