Former Northern Ireland secretaries come out against legacy proposals

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Four former secretaries of state for Northern Ireland have today come out against the Stormont House legacy structures.

In a major intervention to the debate on how the Province should deal with issues arising from the troubled past, the four men, including the Labour peer Lord Hain and the Tory Lord King, as well as four other peers who take a close interest in Northern Ireland, including Lord Eames and Lord Patten, have written to Karen Bradley MP.

Lord Hain, the lead signatory to the letter

Lord Hain, the lead signatory to the letter

In the letter, which is reproduced in this newspaper (see link below), the eight members of the House Of Lords talk of “significant direct ministerial or parliamentary experience in Northern Ireland”, and say they are writing in response to the invitation to comment on the consultation on the mooted legacy bodies.

“We understand why many victims and others attach great importance to the prosecution, conviction and sentencing of those responsible for the appalling loss they have suffered,” the peers write. “But experience suggests that it would be a mistake to expect that judicial outcome in any but a tiny percentage of the crimes that have not already been dealt with.”

The signatories, including the ex-NI secretaries Lord Reid and Lord Murphy, note that the Historical Enquiries Team completed work on 1,615 Troubles deaths, of which “only 17 were referred to the Public Prosecution Service and only three resulted in prosecutions and convictions for murder”.

The likely number of prosecutions arising from the proposed Historical Investigations Unit, they add, is “very small”.

One of the signatories, Lord Eames

One of the signatories, Lord Eames

“It must be worth at least pausing to consider whether this is the best possible use of £150m.”

The peers add: “We note also that currently prosecutions are being considered for former (often now retired) members of the armed forces – perhaps because records and information are more readily available – but none so far as we can establish for paramilitaries.

“That cannot be right.”

However, they add, they are not seeking an amnesty. Rather, they think that the many millions of pounds would be better directed to the most badly injured victims of the Troubles.

The former secretary of state, Tom King

The former secretary of state, Tom King

The signatories are Lord Browne of Ladyton, Lord Cormack, Lord Eames, Lord Hain, Lord King of Bridgwater, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, Lord Patten of Barnes and Lord Reid of Cardowan.

The letter to Ms Bradley spells fresh difficulty for the proposed Stormont House structures, which have been strongly criticised by a range of voices in the News Letter’s Stop The Legacy Scandal series of essays on the imbalance in the way that the past is being examined.

The ground-breaking campaign, which began in August and will continue until later this month, has comprised articles by academics, politicians, lawyers, commentators, churchmen, former members of the security forces and, most important of all, victims of terrorism who have had and expect no justice or truth on what happened to their loved ones, amid a massive focus on killings by the security forces.

The eight peers, who have released their letter to Ms Bradley to all of the media, write: “All in all, we are reinforced in our judgment that the priority is surely now to resource victims not investigations that have little or no likelihood of either prosecution or alternative closure satisfactory to victims.”

• See the letter by clicking here

• For essays in our legacy scandal series click here