Empey ‘weasel words’ warning on legacy consultation plan

Former UUP leader Lord Empey has said there is a difference between consulting on 'how' rather than 'whether' legacy institutions are implemented
Former UUP leader Lord Empey has said there is a difference between consulting on 'how' rather than 'whether' legacy institutions are implemented

The former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey has expressed concern about the scope of a consultation on measures to deal with the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

A government spokesman said on Friday the Secretary of State Karen Bradley will be “consulting on how to implement Stormont House legacy institutions as soon as possible”.

The 2014 agreement proposed an independent investigations unit to probe historic killings, a truth recovery body and an oral history archive.

Thanks to political disagreements, those mechanisms have never been set up.

Lord Empey, the current Ulster Unionist Party chairman, said there is an important difference between consulting on “how” the institutions will be put in place, rather than “whether” the institutions will be put in place.

Following the breakdown of the talks process to restore devolution, Sinn Fein claimed to have reached an agreement on legacy issues with the government, separate from any ‘draft agreement’ they claimed to have reached with the DUP.

Asked by the News Letter about the claims on Friday, a government spokesperson said: “This government has set out clear manifesto commitments to take forward the Stormont House Agrement legacy institutions, and to support inquest reform. As the secretary of state made clear on Tuesday, she will be consulting on how to implement Stormont House legacy institutions as soon as possible.”

Responding, Lord Empey said: “They say that they’re implementing the Stormont House Agreement, but of course the Stormont House Agreement was not agreed by everybody. We didn’t agree to it. Victims haven’t agreed to it.

“So if she’s having a consultation that effectively is how you implement it, rather than whether you implement it, that’s a totally different animal.

“If she is saying the consultation is about how it is to be implemented, that’s a very, very narrow interpretation of a consultation. Are they simply saying that the institutions that are in that agreement are going to be created? Because if that’s the case we will not be supporting it.”

Lord Empey added: “It’s what I would call weasel words.”

The News Letter asked the Northern Ireland Office to respond to Lord Empey’s concerns, and to clarify whether the consultation will focus on “how” rather than “whether” the legacy institutions will be implemented.

A spokesperson said: “As clearly stated in its manifesto, the government has a commitment to take forward the legacy institutions set out in the Stormont House Agreement and, as such, the consultation will reflect this.

“However, it will be an open consultation in which all views will be welcomed and considered carefully.”