Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s claims that the government is set to make “significant changes” to proposals for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles have been dismissed by a UUP MLA.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill warned her party would reject any “side-deal” struck between London and the DUP over legacy matters.
The row comes after DUP legacy spokesman Mr Donaldson, whose party is propping up the Tory government, said the Northern Ireland Office has almost finished its assessment of the 17,000-plus responses to its consultation on the legacy proposals from the Stormont House Agreement (SHA).
The Lagan Valley MP told the News Letter on Monday: “As a result of discussions we have been having at Westminster, we believe the government is going to be making significant changes to the legacy proposals in response to the concerns raised on behalf of innocent victims.”
But UUP legacy spokesman and former soldier Doug Beattie accused Mr Donaldson of trying to “buy people off” with his comments.
One proposal that provoked a strong backlash from some quarters was the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), to look into the massive backlog of unsolved murders.
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Upper Bann MLA Mr Beattie said: “The reason Jeffrey has said there will be changes is because he knows people aren’t happy with the HIU, and the DUP are the ones who signed up to it and who still support it.
“So he is trying to buy people off by telling them that the legacy plan will be so changed that it will not be the same thing. That is disingenuous.
“He is talking about tinkering around the edges of something that people don’t want.
“I have a lot of respect for Jeffrey, but he has come out and said this because it is a key issue on the doors. Coming up to an election, he is trying to put water between his party and a HIU that they agreed to.”
Replying to Mr Beattie’s comments, Mr Donaldson said: “It is notable that Doug has sought to reference the election campaign in his comments. His remarks are another transparent attempt to scaremonger in order to boost a flagging UUP election campaign.
“The DUP has always supported a victim-centred process and the consultation process was a vital component of that. I know that victims made their voice heard in that consultation and it would be only right that the government listens to those voices.
“What we also hear from victims is their distress that no mechanism currently exists to progress investigations into terrorist atrocities. At the same time investigations have been taken forward into those who stood against terrorism. The status quo is simply not acceptable and I would hope Doug recognises that and will work with us to achieve the outcomes that create an opportunity for innocent victims to pursue justice.”
He added that legacy proposals must be “balanced” and have the support of “innocent victims” as 90% of Troubles killings were by terrorists.
Meanwhile, Ms O’Neill called for prompt publication of the consultation responses and said any attempt by the DUP to “rewrite” the SHA would be “entirely unacceptable”.