Troubles issues of ‘paramount importance’ peers told

Lord Empey
Lord Empey

Dealing with legacy issues from the Troubles in Northern Ireland remains of “paramount importance” the Government has insisted, despite it not featuring in key legislation.

Northern Ireland spokesman Lord Dunlop said “intensive work” continued to build the broad consensus needed to bring forward proposals to deal with the emotive and divisive issue.

He moved to reassure peers as he presented The Northern Ireland (Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan) Bill for its second reading.

The proposed legislation aims to implement parts of two political deals aimed at shoring up the country’s fragile power-sharing administration as well as plans to establish a commission on paramilitary activity. It also proposes making Assembly members commit to challenging paramilitary activity.

But in speaking to the Bill, Lord Dunlop told peers: “I would like briefly to address an issue that formed an important part of the fresh start talks, but which does not feature in this legislation. That is the establishment of new bodies to deal with the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland.

“I would like to reassure you it is of paramount importance to the Government, and it’s clear it is important to peers as well.”

He added: “It is the victims and survivors who suffered more than anyone else as a result of the Troubles. The new institutions will therefore be balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable, allowing Northern Ireland to move forward and have the needs of victims and survivors at their heart.”

Former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey said the independent reporting commission was broadly welcome and would help to instil a degree of confidence.

Independent crossbencher Lord Eames welcomed the Bill but said paramilitarism was “still stalking our streets”.

He added: “You cannot legislate for reconciliation in a divided society.”

Democratic Unionist Lord Browne of Belmont said the new independent reporting commission represented significant progress towards the “ultimate goal of eliminating paramilitarism”.

But there were many problems still to be resolved, including “confronting the past”.

Lib Dem spokesman Lord Alderdice said the Bill represented something positive and the Government should be commended for bringing it forward.

The Bill was given an unopposed second reading and now goes forward to its detailed committee stage at a later date.