Unionists and republicans still appear at odds over dealing with Northern Ireland’s past, as former US Envoy Richard Haass gets down to compiling his first draft of an agreement to present to political parties.
The past week has seen the five main Stormont parties meet with the former US envoy to discuss ways of addressing tensions surrounding the flying of flags, parading and dealing with the past.
While Attorney General John Larkin recently caused anger among many Troubles victims by suggesting a line be drawn under all pre-1998 Troubles offences, this week saw DUP MP Sammy Wilson say his party would support victims who wanted to offer limited immunity to perpetrators in return for information about loved ones’ deaths.
DUP leader Peter Robinson had said only days before he was “not averse” to considering immunity in return for information on historic murders.
Sources tell the News Letter this weekend will see Dr Haass prepare his first draft of an agreement which will be presented to the parties on Tuesday. He hopes negotiations will be finished by the new year.
It is understood that the DUP position on dealing with the past is that it is in favour of “immunity for information rather than individuals”. The party’s negotiating position is understood to be that this could come into play if:
l The Historical Enquiries Team reviews a murder and finds no possibility of prosecution possible;
l The family of the victim then decide that they would like to opt for “truth recovery”;
l Any information given to them would not then be admissible in subsequent criminal prosecution;
l The process would not in any way prevent a future prosecution for the same case.
DUP negotiator Jeffrey Donaldson said: “Our focus on dealing with the past is ensuring robust criminal prosecutions are in place to pursue justice. We have no firm position until we see what proposals will be put on the table.”
Asked if the DUP would accept anonymity from any perpetrator bringing forward information, he said he did not know at this stage.
On parades he said: “We are firmly of the view that the Parades Commission is not fit for purpose and we need a new system to deal with parades from all sides of the community.”
The News Letter understands from a source within the party that there was a serious row when discussions turned to flags. The source said the party was “spitting blood” in the wake of these talks on Thursday – but would not go into details of what it was about.
There has been widespread speculation that both the PSNI Historical Enquiries Team and the Parades Commission will be replaced with new bodies.
Former Sinn Fein publicity director Danny Morrison said yesterday he did not see anyone taking part in a “limited immunity” process.
“Why would they risk further exposure?” he asked. “They would then be asked who else was in the car with them and questions like that.”
He held up the example of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains as a possible model.
“IRA people acted as mediators to get information from others on abductions and secret burials. People gave information and were encouraged to do so.”
Asked if republicans would accept British soldiers giving testimony anonymously and without files being disclosed, he said: “I don’t know.”
The chances of anyone now being charged with a Troubles-related offence is “miniscule” he said, so did not see why they would risk exposing themselves in any truth process.
Meanwhile, Lord Kilclooney was yesterday angered by media reports that Dr Haass travelled to Dublin on Thursday to meet the Taoiseach and discuss issues relating to flags, parades and dealing with the past.
“I fear they are breaching the terms of the Belfast Agreement in a big way by discussing Northern Ireland affairs,” he said. “I negotiated the Belfast Agreement as deputy leader of the UUP and every time it came to issues relating to the internal affairs of Northern Ireland was always put the southern government out of the room every time.”