Tom Elliott: Legacy process must focus on terrorists

Tom Elliott speaks with colleagues at an Ulster Unionist Party press call at Stormont on March 9 2017. 

Photo by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Tom Elliott speaks with colleagues at an Ulster Unionist Party press call at Stormont on March 9 2017. Photo by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

From the moment proposals for new truth and justice mechanisms for dealing with the past emerged during the Haass talks process of 2013, the Ulster Unionist Party urged caution.

Our concerns were primarily that the proposed new structures would not fulfil the desire to see justice done in a fair, proportionate and equitable way, particularly given that 90% of the killings were by terrorists.

Now, three talks processes later we are yet to hear anything to change our minds.

For those who want to see a balanced process that does not allow for a rewriting of history, the detail of these bodies should be under intense scrutiny.

We have continually questioned the rationale for an investigatory process separate from the PSNI, let alone one that has full police powers. Given the work that went into making sure there was full confidence in the PSNI, why risk making it look as though they are trusted to police today, but not the past?

Even on a practical basis we have concerns around the establishment of a huge body and the staffing of it with the number of investigators with the expertise required. It is important that cases can be investigated efficiently given the long wait many victims have already faced and the number who are now in the later stages of their lives.

I have also lobbied that there cannot be a two-tier process created by the criteria for investigation by the HIU. If it were to pick up where the HET left off, it would be unacceptable for all those preceding cases that were only subject to review to feel shut off from the chance of an investigation.

There must be a mechanism to allow families who believe their HET review was unsatisfactory to trigger an HIU investigation.

We have long argued that legacy coroners’ inquests should be part of the package of measures. As it stands there is the prospect that under the proposed arrangements, a proportion of Troubles cases would then be eligible to pursue an investigation from the HIU as well as an inquest through the Coroners’ Court. To us this would undermine the principles of equality and fairness in the process. However, in the end we found ourselves standing alone. I would appeal to parties to reconsider their positions on this.

In our meetings with the Irish Government we have been clear that they must make a commitment to maximum disclosure. We have consistently pressed that in this section of the agreements they are part of, their language must match the full disclosure commitment of the UK Government and further to establish an investigative body equivalent to what would be established in Northern Ireland.

Beyond the truth and justice mechanisms, there is also the disgraceful situation where we are yet to see significant movement on the mental health initiative or a pension for victims injured through no fault of their own.

These are practical measures that victims consistently raise. Why did the Executive not move quickly to at least deliver on some aspects of what they have promised at Stormont House and Fresh Start?

Finally, I would urge parties and the two governments to think carefully on these proposals.

The effort to secure agreement must be secondary to ensuring an already imperfect situation is not made worse for the innocent victims in our society.

• Tom Elliott is Ulster Unionist MP for Fermanagh & South Tyrone