DCSIMG

Villiers comments ‘insensitive to thousands of victims’

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers pictured meeting with local church leaders, l-r, Archbishop Richard Clarke (Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh), Rev Dr Heather Morris )President of the Methodist Church), Rt Rev Dr Rob Craig (Moderator of the Presbyterian Church), Rev Dr Donald Watts (President of the Irish Council of Churches) and Bishop Donal McKeown (Roman Catholic Bishop of Derry).

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers pictured meeting with local church leaders, l-r, Archbishop Richard Clarke (Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh), Rev Dr Heather Morris )President of the Methodist Church), Rt Rev Dr Rob Craig (Moderator of the Presbyterian Church), Rev Dr Donald Watts (President of the Irish Council of Churches) and Bishop Donal McKeown (Roman Catholic Bishop of Derry).

The Victims Commissioner has accused the Northern Ireland Secretary of displaying insensitivity over the legacy of the conflict.

Theresa Villiers suggested most people did not wake up worrying about the past and called for “proportionate” focus on wrongdoing by republicans and loyalists rather than the police as part of future measures to heal divisions.

Commissioner Kathryn Stone cautioned politicians against adopting a simplistic view as she announced she is to take up a post in England.

She claimed Ms Villiers’ comments were: “Insensitive to thousands of victims and survivors who do wake up every morning living with the legacy of the past and fearing what new trauma is around the corner.

“Victims and survivors have given politicians a brave, dignified and progressive lead on what we need to do to address the very real and difficult issue of dealing with the past.

“I believe consistent acknowledgement of that effort and sensitivity to their feelings in any public debate should be part of a new political sense.”

Ms Villers gave a keynote speech in Belfast this morning. She said: “Let’s face it, the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland don’t wake up on a Monday morning worrying about the past, flags or parades.”

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 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 Stone said good intentions could be derailed if only lip service was paid to victims and survivors’ sensitivities.

She added: “Putting victims and survivors first should not just be political rhetoric but should be as fundamental a thought process as applying racial, gender or religious equality to any policy statements.”

Ms Villiers argued that any 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, 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 said: “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 Police Service of Northern Ireland (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, co-operating with loyalist terror gangs and ensuring people needlessly lost their lives.

Ms Villiers said 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 added 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 maintained that a fresh approach was 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.”

 

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