With the Executive on the brink of collapse, the UK Government has insisted it still wants to see political “consensus” before a special police unit to deal with Troubles crimes is set up.
The statement from the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) comes as the future of the Province’s devolved power-sharing government hangs in the balance, and a period of direct rule looks increasingly possible.
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, in a debate in Westminster on Tuesday, suggested that the failure to establish the Historical Inquiries Unit (HIU) so far is down to a “Sinn Fein veto”.
He said the HIU would mean “murders committed by the terrorists would finally be subjected to proper scrutiny and reinvestigation”.
He wants the government to begin a consultation now on setting the body up.
However, the NIO’s statement seems to indicate the Government is not minded to move in this direction without agreement among Northern Irish politicians.
At present, a team from within the PSNI is dealing with Troubles cases, but Mr Donaldson said the HIU would be bigger, and funded independent of the police.
The idea for the HIU to take over control was set out in the Stormont House Agreement of December 2014, which resulted from multi-party talks.
This said that it would be “a new independent body” which would “take forward investigations into outstanding Troubles-related deaths”.
The following year, with this deal foundering, the Fresh Start Agreement was unveiled (struck essentially by the DUP and Sinn Fein alone).
Whilst this had sought to resolve major differences on a range of issues, it said the parties had been “unable to agree a way forward” on the HIU.
Just before Christmas 2016, prior to the unfolding of the current imminent crisis for the Executive, the News Letter had asked the NIO for its view on the fact that it still has not been established.
It said the UK Government is “committed” to the establishment of it, and had been working “to develop the broad political consensus required to launch a public phase of engagement on these proposals”.
With power-sharing now in jepoardy following the resignation of Martin McGuinness, the News Letter then this week asked the NIO if it is possible for the Government to simply set it up directly from Westminister.
It responded: “It remains the case that the secretary of state will want to gain political consensus on the outstanding legacy issues.”