There has been much said about the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) legacy proposals that were agreed in 2015 between Sinn Fein and the DUP.
As a party the Ulster Unionists have been vocal in our opposition, focused mostly on the flawed proposals for the creation of the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU).
Our opposition has been vindicated in the last number of weeks by the publication of responses to the public consultation on legacy.
This is despite the attempts of the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) to soften the language around the proposals which show clear opposition to them.
By steering the media line to focus on opposition to a Statute of Limitations (SoL) or amnesty, which didn’t even form part of the consultation, the NIO shows they are weak in dealing with the big parties’ political agendas.
The UUP remain concerned that both the NIO and the UK government will attempt to push the Legacy Bill through parliament despite the widespread opposition to it.
This concern is heightened by the fact that although the UK government have yet to have agreement for these mechanisms at Westminster, the Irish government have gone ahead and cleared their meagre part in supporting the HIU in the form of Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill 2019.
Although many people believe successive Irish governments — especially in the 1970s and 80s — bear a degree of responsibility for the death toll in the Northern Ireland Troubles, they have no intention to set up a similar body as the HIU.
There will be no concerted effort to address the issue of the terrorist arms dumps, training camps, network of safe houses or questions as to how the IRA’s murder gangs were able to operate for decades with relative impunity from what was the virtual safe haven of the Irish Republic.
The hundreds of victims in Northern Ireland, killed or injured in attacks that originated from the Republic’s sovereign territory, surely deserve answers?
The Irish International Co-operation Bill is also clear on what it will and will not allow. Whilst the UK government has declared it will give over every piece of information for investigation and only then redact before any family report, the Irish government will be able redact information before investigation. This means that all the investigatory evidence will not be provided for a selected number of murders.
As the Irish government points accusing fingers at the UK government over issues such as the Hooded Men, they themselves deny justice by denying information. All this while attempting to force the UK government to push through the legacy mechanisms which include the HIU.
This situation may be acceptable to the NIO but it should be brought to a halt by 10 Downing Street.
The other thing that has always struck me in respect to the HIU is that it intends to investigate Police ‘Non-Criminal Misconduct’ which by its very wording does not carry any chance of a criminal charge against any individual.
The HIU will not investigate the 47,000 cases of individuals who were injured during the Troubles; this includes the limbless, blind, disabled, burned and psychologically damaged.
Most of these injuries were as a result of the IRA bombing campaign that saw over 15,000 detonations resulting in thousands of injuries. These will not be investigated, yet somehow it is regarded as acceptable for the HIU to pursue “non-criminal misconduct” charges against former police officers?
Anyone reading the SHA legacy mechanisms could well be mistaken in thinking that what is most important about the HIU, is the undermining of the RUC GC and those who served gallantly in this the bravest of organisations.
Indeed individual officers could find themselves – indirectly – named and undermined without the ability to challenge the findings of the HIU family report that, as explained earlier, may not have all the information on the issue from certain quarters.
What is even more shameful is that dead RUC officers — even those murdered by republican terrorists — can be undermined and their names dragged through the mud.
All of this will be done while preventing former members of the RUC GC from serving on the HIU. However – as is clear in the Irish International Co-operation Bill — members of the Garda Síochána may serve outside the state within the HIU with UK government agreement.
Recently I spoke to a group of MPs in Westminster about legacy. I made it clear that although the issue around veterans is to the fore, the reality is that if we allow republicans to undermine the RUC GC by their incessant attempts to rewrite the Troubles narrative, we will in effect give republicans what they crave most – equivalence.
This will allow them to promote the idea, nationally and internationally, that their campaign of butchering men women and children was in some way justified. This in itself is utterly obscene and anyone allowing it should be ashamed of their part in it.
To that end we cannot and the government should not, support the HIU. Nor should it introduce anything such as the Statute of Limitations that would give equivalence between the lawful forces of the state and the terrorists.
The government must support the rule of law and the lawful investigatory body within Northern Ireland, the PSNI. They must ensure they are resourced to investigate our past, the present and future trends, instead of creating a parallel police force to the PSNI staffed by members from another country.
Again we call on the DUP to publicly oppose the formation of a HIU and if they are not willing to do so, we call on the next Prime Minister and MPs in Westminster to reject this unfair, unbalanced, unlawful and unworkable investigatory system that is not victim focused and never can be.
• Doug Beattie MC MLA is Ulster Unionist justice spokesperson