Arlene Foster '˜won't stand in way of Troubles legacy inquests'

Arlene Foster will not attempt to stand in the way of funding for Troubles' inquests, the victims' commissioner has said after a meeting with the DUP leader yesterday.

Arlene Foster and Judith Thompson with members of the victims' forum yesterday
Arlene Foster and Judith Thompson with members of the victims' forum yesterday

Judith Thompson led a “very diverse delegation from the victims’ and survivors’ forum” to Stormont for an hour-long meeting with Mrs Foster yesterday morning.

She told the News Letter that it had been a “very positive and cordial meeting”.

Alluding to the fact that Mrs Foster is herself a victim of the IRA, she said that there was “respect that everyone had some shared experience”.

Ms Thompson said: “There was discussion about the Stormont House [Agreement] proposals and the need to move forward with them – the forum were very united about that. 
“Arlene Foster agreed that that was the way forward and what needed to happen. She was clear that were there an Assembly there would be consultation to implement the Stormont House Agreement very quickly and she was clear that if there is not an Assembly then she would have no objection whatsoever to the Secretary of State moving forward without the Assembly.”

She said that there was disagreement about the issue of a pension for all victims – something which the DUP has said it will not support if it means money going to former terrorists – but that “there was still a positive conversation about how this can be achieved and a recognition that it’s desirable to achieve it”.

She said that money for inquests of those killed during the Troubles who never had an inquest had also been discussed.

“Arlene Foster said what she has said previously, that they wanted to see things move together as a matter of balance but that if there was movement on other legacy institutions she would absolutely accept [and] expect that there would be funding for legacy inquests.

“The point where she would differ from many members of the forum would be that the two things should be tied together – I think within that room people would have wanted to see legacy inquests move forward as a matter of right.”

When asked if Mrs Foster had made any objection in principle to the legacy inquests, Ms Thompson said: “Not at all. She used the words that she accepted people’s article two rights and would not want to stand in the way of those.”

The News Letter understands that some senior DUP figures have been keen to ensure that the financing of the multiple legacy bodies, as well as the inquests, move forward simultaneously in a structured way and that could secure adequate funding for each aspect.

When asked if she saw her role as representing all those pressing for legacy inquests – even those which relate to terrorists’ deaths – as ‘victims’, Ms Thompson said: “I operate under the law which was passed in 2006 and amended in 2008 which says that everyone who has been bereaved, injured, traumatised or is a carer for anyone who is one of those things...are victims of the Troubles and that is the definition that I work under.”