On the day the NIO’s consultation on how we deal with the past comes to an end, Northern Ireland parties have outlined the main points of their response to the government’s proposals.
The News Letter asked all of them to provide a summary of their position on the mooted approach to legacy.
Whilst there is broad agreement that victims and survivors are entitled to truth and justice, the suggested mechanisms for providing a degree of closure are proving extremely controversial and divisive.
Unionists have grave concerns that former members of the security forces will be unfairly scrutinised and persecuted, while those who committed terrorist atrocities will continue to evade justice because, unlike the police and military, terrorist organisations have no written records of their activity.
Of particular concern is a proposed finding of ‘non criminal police misconduct’ in future historic investigations conducted by a new body with police powers.
This measure is being vehemently opposed as a potential “catch all clause” to be used against former police officers where no evidence of any criminal activity exists.
However, both Sinn Fein and the SDLP believe the current proposals should be implemented.
Alliance has welcomed the proposals, subject to “safeguards to ensure proportionality,” while the Greens describe them as a “starting point”.
Here are the various party responses:
‘The Democratic Unionist Party has major concerns over elements of the draft Bill proposed by the NIO, and without significant amendment, anticipate it will not meet the objective of properly addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past.
The DUP has stood against a rewriting of our history and efforts to introduce an amnesty. In contrast we have always sought to keep open the prospect of justice for those who were targeted by terrorists.
The government’s latest proposals are being viewed through the lens of two decades of offence and outrage felt by innocent victims, and where the definition of a victim continues to be unjust and unacceptable.
The DUP considers the best opportunity for justice to come from an investigatory team with full police powers. Innocent victims, inexplicably, is the only group not seeing some level of progress with investigations. New UK-wide legislation to improve the definition of a victim could offer the best prospect of success for any new arrangements.’
‘Full implementation of legacy mechanisms agreed at Stormont House is key to realising the potential of the peace process.
They must be implemented and they must be operated on the basis of equality, dignity and respect for all.
Fulfilling legacy obligations will require a step change in the British government’s approach to engaging with the past.
To date the British government’s approach has been to deny and cover up its own role and culpability as the main conflict protagonist.
Sinn Fein is concerned at media reports that the British Ministry of Defence is establishing a team to consider proposals to protect armed forces veterans from prosecution for historical investigations.
It is Sinn Fein’s view that attempts to engage a blanket British national security veto are not only contrary to the policy intent but risk undermining the independence of the legacy mechanisms.’
‘The current system for dealing with the past is not working and change is necessary, but that is no reason to replace it with something even worse.
We have little or no confidence that the proposed legacy arrangements will in any way help achieve the Bill’s stated principle that the approach to dealing with Northern Ireland’s past should be ‘balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable.’
It would be nothing short of madness and a cowardly betrayal for any government to acquiesce in a process that will sacrifice the reputation of its police and soldiers as an act of appeasement to IRA terrorists.
The imbalance in the availability of credible historical records and the fact that the proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) will only examine some fatalities and do nothing for the 47,000 victims injured as a result of terrorist activity is totally unacceptable.
It`s a scandal which should be stopped.’
‘This time it must be different. The needs of victims and survivors must have primacy. This time justice, truth, accountability and acknowledgement in their fullest possible measures must guide all.
These are the standards against which the past should be judged. They have informed the SDLP response to the legacy consultation.
Anything less and we would be lacking.
The risk is that vested interests not victims interests will prevail. State agencies and illegal groups share an objective - one that protects themselves from full scrutiny.
This is as true for MI5 as it is for the IRA or UDA.
This is a time of political uncertainty yet also time to create certainty for victims and survivors.
Addressing the past cannot be another unseemly barter. Let the best independent legacy models be put into legislation – with all necessary funding, loyal to human rights standards, without hiding places. Lets put victims first.’
‘The Stormont House Agreement (SHA) proposals are the best and last opportunity to deal with the legacy of the past.
Numerous victims and survivors continue to bear both physical and psychological wounds from the Troubles, as well as having practical needs which have still not been addressed. Those people need closure – we cannot claim a new beginning for our society through drawing a line under the past or rewriting history. As the culmination of collective efforts to find a comprehensive set of mechanisms, the SHA proposals have the support or assent of both governments, a cross-section of parties here and large numbers of victims and survivors’ groups. However, they are not perfect. Some changes should be made, including more robust accountability mechanisms and safeguards to ensure proportionality, But we cannot let the perfect become the enemy of the good. If this opportunity passes, we may not get another chance to address our troubled past.’
‘The Bill accepts the perverse definition of ‘victim’ which equates innocent victim with victim-maker.
With the HIU the equality of focus on the criminal investigation and police misconduct is most unequal as: a) police misconduct investigation will be aided by records (terrorists keep no records) and b) the threshold for a misconduct charge against a police officer is proof on the balance of probabilities, but a criminal conviction against a terrorist requires proof beyond reasonable doubt.
When we come to the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval it is useless if not dangerous because
i) it must keep secret the name of anyone giving information and the name of anyone named as a murderer;
ii) information cannot be used in the prosecution of anyone liable for criminal acts;
iii) there is no mechanism to test the veracity of the information and
iv) having completed its work all information must be destroyed.’
Green Party NI:
‘Our conflict was complicated, brutal and lingering. That, in part, is why the current proposals for dealing with the legacy of our past will never provide everything that every victim wants.
These legacy proposals are imperfect but they do provide a starting point – and when victims and survivors are dying while they wait for some form of recourse, a starting point is better than nothing. It’s vital that our approach to dealing with the past must be victim centred.
That means that due consideration for victims and survivors must be integrated into every aspect of the legacy bodies and procedures.
There is also an opportunity to address the under representation of women in previous approaches to legacy issues. The majority of troubles victims were men as were the perpetrators. This left women and children to pick up the pieces - they still do in many ways.
That’s why we’re calling on the lived experiences of women to be fully recognised throughout the process of dealing with our past.’