Victims group: ‘Is HIU another sop to republicanism?’

IRA gunman
IRA gunman

We are still unclear if any of the structures as proposed by the Stormont House Agreement will be implemented in the near future, and are further unsighted as to what they might look like.

The new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) has been lauded by many to provide the full investigatory body needed to provide answers to the past.

The Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, pictured at Stormont earlier this year, has dismayed victims with his "absolute hypocrisy" in lecturing the British on legacy matters, says Ken Funston. 
Picture By: Arthur Allison.

The Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, pictured at Stormont earlier this year, has dismayed victims with his "absolute hypocrisy" in lecturing the British on legacy matters, says Ken Funston. Picture By: Arthur Allison.

I am not so sure.

By the time of the demise of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), they had reached a chronological date of 1987, but had deliberately bypassed many inquiries, mostly involving murdered members of the British Army.

I have sight of over 50 HET reports, the vast majority are an absolute embarrassment to that body.

The first question SEFF will be asking during the consultation process is will these and other reports be subject to a new investigation?

Ken Funston, Advocacy services manager South East Fermanagh Foundation

Ken Funston, Advocacy services manager South East Fermanagh Foundation

We have recently received mixed messages as to that question with ACC Mark Hamilton suggesting that all murders will be reviewed by the HIU; again I’m not so sure.

It is interesting to note that in the ECtHR case of Brecknell v UK, it was held “where there is a plausible, or credible, allegation, piece of evidence or item of information relevant to the identification, and eventual prosecution or punishment of the perpetrator of an unlawful killing, the authorities are under an obligation to take further investigative measures”.

I have no doubt this statement will be used and abused to further the interests of others who have an agenda that has not the victims and survivors best interests at heart.

It is quite amazing how new witnesses seem to appear some 40 years after the event, and rather than being dismissed, are used as a centrepiece of an investigation against the state.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton recently said there are “specific cases that have been directly referred to us by the DPP for Northern Ireland and as a result, these cases have been prioritised”.

The chief constable had also previously confirmed that statement, leaving the apprehension that the future workload of the HIU will be subject to legacy directions.

I am further unsighted as to the structure of the HIU, its staff and how they will be recruited, and if it will be a fair and equitable organisation.

The British government has committed to full disclosure to the HIU, we really have no idea if the Republic of Ireland government will do the same.

I have had reason to engage with the republic’s government over cases with a cross-border dimension.

I am either ignored or passed from office to office with a level of banality that attempts to force me to give up.

I understand that the FRPU in Markethill have had the same problem over the Kingsmills inquest.

The recent absolute hypocrisy of Republic of Ireland Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan in his address within a Pat Finucane lecture organised by Relatives for Justice leaves us further dismayed.

Is it possible that only the British government will be forthcoming in future investigations?

Yet in these possible one-sided inquiries, the terrorist organisations are not obliged to give evidence or produce documents of any kind, or produce a sanitised anonymous version to the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR).

I think a lot of people really don’t fully comprehend the strategy behind the list of legacy inquests, 90% of which are directed against the state.

This is quite remarkable considering the small number of contentious cases involving the agencies of the state.

As these cases will be subject to full disclosure, it is quite likely the resulting coroner’s recommendations will form the bulk of the HIUs workload, not the investigation of cases involving innocent victims.

We already see that today with the prosecution of old soldiers.

It is the constant accusations against the state that continues to embolden some, thereby giving them credence for their 40 years of terrorism in this country.

We do not accept that what was proposed via Stormont House Agreement is set in stone, a grievous error of judgement was made to allow the coroners’ inquest process to exist outside the realms of the proposed new HIU, that error in judgement must now be corrected, quite simply there must be no further appeasement of terrorism.

As someone who works with innocent victims of terrorism, we want the HIU to work on an equitable basis.

There is no doubt there is a hierarchy of victims, and the innocent victim is at the bottom of the pile, surely in a just society that must change.

• Ken Funston is advocacy services manager at the South East Fermanagh Foundation. His brother was murdered by the IRA at the age of 28 as he worked on the family farm on the Fermanagh-Donegal border in 1984

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