A panel of politicians has taken the brunt of victims’ frustrations about the emerging Stormont House Agreement bill.
The exchanges took place in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings on Wednesday night at an event organised by Innocent Victims United entitled ‘Stormont House Agreement – Political Breakthrough or SHAm?’
The tensest part of the evening was when Castlederg woman Shelley Gilfillan commanded the room and verbally attacked the politicians.
She dismissed talks of spending millions on mental health projects for victims, citing her brother and uncle’s murder.
“No amount of mental health or well being is ... good enough,” she said. “It is embedded in me,” she said of her pain.
“Let the victims tell you what we need. What we need and what we want is justice,” she said to loud applause.
“I come from Castlederg where there are 29 unsolved murders. Is that normal? I don’t think so.”
She concluded: “There will never be anything done for the innocent victims but the innocent victims will not go away. We will push for what we should have – justice.”
Ken Funston, whose brother was murdered by the IRA, repeated his comments reported by the News Letter earlier this week, that the Justice Minister had told him that the proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) would get would get “’one or two” prosecutions at best – a quote Mr Ford disputes, while admitting he does not expect a large number of prosecutions.
Mr Funston added that David Ford has therefore “no confidence” in the SHA.
Mr Funston told Mr Nesbitt that after the UUP leader expressed serious reservations on the SHA, he could not see how there was any agreement for the emerging legislation.
And he added that there was a hidden double standard appearing, with the new inquests for the SAS shootings of eight IRA members at Loughall – a level of inquiry that “innocent victims” have no hope of achieving, he said.
Victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer also stirred a strong reaction.
“It is time you listened to the victims’ ideas,” he said, again to loud applause. “We’ve got the ideas. You won’t listen to us.”
“We would think you were more sincere if you mentioned from time to time about the Irish state instead of continually lambasting our security forces.”
Serena Hamilton, whose father was murdered by the IRA in 1977, wanted to know if the new HIU would re-examine the Historical Enquiries Team report on the case.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: “The answer is probably no, unless there is new evidence,” though his party would argue otherwise.
Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn replied that this question caused them concern.
DUP MLA Emma Pengelly said: “These issues have not been fully agreed.” She added that funding would be provided to help organisations research new evidence.
Alex Attwood said that his party will work to ensure HET reports can be reviewed by the HIU.
One victim asked what will be done to ensure the oral history project would not be one sided. The panellists agreed this was a concern and said they would work to ensure it was fair.
In their individual addresses to the audience, the DUP and Alliance sold the SHA, but the UUP and SDLP warned victims of danger.
SDLP MLA Alex Attwood said he shared the fears of victims about the emerging bill and said they were trying to correct it.
“We are going to get it wrong again,” he said of how the bill would pan out. His party are trying to correct the weaknesses, he added.
DUP MLA Emma Pengelly said the DUP’s top priority was justice for victims and insisted there was “no amnesty” in the emerging bill. The proposed Historical Inquiries Unit (HIU) will be much superior to the previous Historical Enquiries Team, she added.
Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn said he was surprised to find out that his was the only party that had fully supported the Stormont House Agreement (SHA).
“The SHA can deliver truth and justice if it is given a chance,” he said.
Mr Nesbitt expressed concern that the SHA would require much more transparency from the UK than the Irish government.
He said that victims should not be optimistic about the information they would get under the SHA, citing Martin McGuinness’s refusal to cooperate with the Saville Inquiry, the IRA’s deceptive statements to the Smithwick Inquiry and the lack of information it has provided for the recovery of the outstanding “disappeared”.
TUV leader Jim Allister demanded that the Executive parties redefine the definition of victim to exclude terrorists and also slammed the proposal to have “IRA commander Mr McGuinness” hold a veto over the appointment of the director of the HIU.
Mr Nesbitt called for the appointment to be made by the Policing Board or the judicial appointments process. Mr Allister said the SHA would only provide “whatever version of Provo truth” suited the IRA.
Basil McCrea MLA of NI21 advocated getting resources to victims while they are still alive and prosecuting where possible. But he slammed those selling unrealistic expectations of justice to victims.
John McCallister MLA questioned spending £150m on HIU if it had little prospect of convictions. He commended John Larkin’s argument of drawing a line under all prosecutions.
:: A former adviser to Tony Blair is to appear before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee inquiry on the IRA and Libya on October 14.
Sir Vincent Fean was ambassador to Libya while Tony Blair was prime minister and his role has come under increasing scrutiny in light of claims that Mr Blair blocked IRA victims from winning compensation from the country. Also appearing will be Andrew McKinley MP. The committee has also written to Tony Blair to ask him to provide written evidence, adding that they may call him to appear in person.