Veterans and victims concerns over new UK/Irish legacy engagement

Military veterans and some victims’ groups have expressed concerns at the announcement of further talks on Troubles legacy issues – with no sign that the UK Government is going to “make good on past promises”.

Friday, 25th June 2021, 4:41 pm
NI Secretary Brandon Lewis (right) and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney after a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in Dublin. Photo: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire
NI Secretary Brandon Lewis (right) and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney after a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in Dublin. Photo: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

On Thursday evening, following a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC), the UK and Irish governments agreed that a “process of intensive engagement” is needed to resolve how we deal with the aftermath of the conflict.

NI Secretary Brandon Lewis described the meeting as “hugely important”.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the planned discussions would be “open-minded” and not have “any predetermined outcome”.

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“This isn’t something we’re talking about managing for months and months and months, we’re going to move this ahead quickly,” he told the BBC.

Mr Coveney added: “We have in place the Stormont House Agreement, which is now quite a number of years old.

“There is concern amongst some that the Stormont House structures aren’t as comprehensive as needed to deal with legacy in a way that will work for victims and their families and for Northern Ireland on the road to reconciliation.

“The two governments have now agreed to move a process forward together, in partnership, to reach out to families of victims, to political parties in Northern Ireland and other stakeholders to talk about the way forward.”

Paul Young of Justice for NI Veterans Original repeated his assertion that military veterans should be included in discussions, and supportive of any proposals to address legacy issues.

He said: “Veterans campaign groups, across the whole of the UK, have trusted the [NI] Secretary of State and the British Government to make good on their promises, but it seems that, following this north-south meeting, that they are, yet again, going to backtrack and enter into another fruitless consultation period where both sides are going to say exactly the same thing and are going to going to pose the Stormont House Agreement in exactly the same way.”

Mr Young added: “At the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Brandon Lewis publicly said he was going to bring forward legislation by the summer recess. He also said it in Parliament, so how can another consultation period actually bring forward legislation before the summer recess which is only a matter of weeks away.

“Either he is going to do what he said he would do, or he’s going to kick it down the road again. And if he kicks it down the road again, then the veterans across the whole of the UK are going to be done with it. We will not trust a single word that he or this government says and we will actively work to oppose it.”

Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United (IVU) said: “The UK and RoI governments need to stop the process of appeasement of terrorism and its political annexes.”

Mr Donaldson also stressed that “no amnesty” should be implemented, and added: “A formal acknowledgement process must be front and centre and commence any new legacy initiative.

“The UK and RoI states, plus the terror organisations and their political annexes, must collectively state that in the context of the NI Troubles there was no legitimacy for the use of criminal violence in the pursuance of or defence of a political objective.

“Any solution on legacy which fails to secure the support of the IVU constituency has no credibility.”

NI Veterans’ Commissioner Danny Kinahan said “veterans expected “movement on legislation” and expected it to happen before the Parliament summer recess.

He added: “There is growing frustration within the veterans community and I am hearing that on a daily basis as I travel around NI engaging with veterans on this issue.

“The goverment has indicated that it is moving away from the Stormont House proposals and towards information retrieval.

“I, like the veterans I represent, am keen to see the detail of the proposed legislation and I would call on the UK Government to bring it forward as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, DUP MLA Diane Dodds has written to Brandon Lewis asking him to meet with the family of Ian Sproule who was murdered by the Provisional IRA through alleged collusion with Irish police.

Mrs Dodds said: “If the approach [to legacy] is to be comprehensive then the issue of collusion between Garda officers and the IRA must also be addressed.

“It is 30 years since Ian Sproule was murdered near Castlederg and allegations remain that members of the Garda Siochana colluded with PIRA by passing on his personal information. I look forward to the UK Government engaging with victims such as the Sproule family.”

Mrs Dodds added: “The murder of Lord Justice and Lady Gibson is another case where serious questions remain and was raised with the Irish Government in recent months.

“If the discussions on legacy between the two Governments are to be meaningful then such cases cannot be ignored. I look forward to the UK Government engaging with victims such as the Sproule family and seeking inquiries to finally secure truth and justice in relation to the murder of UK citizens.”

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