The largest victims’ umbrella group in Northern Ireland has quizzed all the main parties standing in the election about their stance on victims’ issues.
Innocent Victims United (IVU) spokesman Kenny Donaldson said they submitted 10 questions to the parties, quizzing them on their view of the current legal definition of a victim, the proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) to replace the Historical Enquiries Team, information retrieval for victims and equal transparency from Dublin and London on their roles in the Troubles.
They pressed the parties on victims’ pensions, on the run comfort letters, the glorification of terrorism and the Irish Republic’s track record on security and extradition and its role in the formation of the IRA.
And IVU asked the parties if they support story telling as part of a history of the Troubles – and whether inquests focusing on the “right to life” will benefit terror victims, or primarily perpetrators.
The parties which responded were TUV, UUP, DUP, NI Conservatives, SDLP, Ukip and Alliance. Sinn Fein failed to offer a response while the Green Party were unable to respond, IVU said.
Mr Donaldson said: “On the issue of definition of victim there is no agreement that the current definition is unsustainable and requires revision and this is despite the individual responses detailing that parties acknowledge that the perpetrators of a crime cannot be viewed in the same way as those who are the focus of that crime.
“IVU now calls for a consultation process to be launched where victims and survivors and broader civic society are offered the opportunity to give their verdict on an issue which is integral to building a society where the ‘integrity of the past’ is protected.”
Regarding the rise of special inquests which are compliant with European Convention on Human Rights Article 2 – “the Right to Life” – none of the political parties felt victims would benefit; IVU is concerned that the state will be obliged to give full disclosure in regular fresh cases while terrorists have no comparable obligations to give up any information at all.
But IVU was encouraged that the Northern Ireland Conservatives wanted to see a clear distinction between perpetrator and victim in law.
If that is reflected in the national Conservative Party and they are elected as the Government next week, then IVU is hopeful that there could be a real chance of the legislation being changed, he said.
“We welcome the cross-party view that more needs to be done in outlawing glorification of terrorism practices and the support that exists amongst most that new legislation may need introducing.
“Another positive message coming from across the political divide was an acknowledgement that both governments must step up to the plate and be prepared to provide ‘full disclosure’ around events connected with ‘the past’.
“There was quite a divergence in the viewpoint expressed around the HIU with some parties [the DUP] enthusiastically selling its merits and others having a much more sceptical and cautious approach.”
IVU is clear that a core fundamental issue to progress society is “protecting the integrity of the past ... because for so many victims and survivors across Northern Ireland and beyond, this is the single greatest issue which affects their daily lives”.
Providing services for victims is also “crucial”.
He added: “What we experienced here was not war, it was not a ‘conflict’. It was a terrorist campaign with sectarian and ethnic influences.”
IVU is clear that violence for political objectives “cannot ever be justified whether that violence is perpetrated by republican or loyalist terrorists or individual members of the security forces who criminally breach the law”.