Current or ex-PSNI and RUC officers could be effectively barred from serving in the new planned police unit aimed at cracking old Troubles cases, an MLA has said.
Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie said plans are under consideration which would mean the long-mooted Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) would exclude Northern Irish policing personnel due to potential bias it might cause in investigations – but that Gardai could still serve on the unit.
He said the idea had been raised with him by high-level sources in both the PSNI and the Department for Justice (DoJ).
Such an arrangement, he declared yesterday, would amount to an “insult” to those officers who have dedicated themselves to policing the Province.
Mr Beattie added that it would also go against the draft wording of the bill which is supposed to create the HIU, whilst prominent Troubles victims’ spokesman Kenny Donaldson said that it would contradict assurances given to him by the secretary of state.
The whole idea rests on the notion that “all our present and former police officers were either corrupt or incapable of conducting independent investigations”, said Mr Beattie – adding that it would “not make sense” to exclude them but to still allow Gardai to join, given the past allegations of collusion between members of the Republic’s force and the IRA.
Doug Beattie said the idea of the HIU operating with no involvement from Northern Irish police showed it was “becoming a one sided, unbalanced legacy project”, and called on the two main unionist parties to jointly oppose the HIU plans “before it is too late”.
He told the News Letter the last draft of a bill he had seen concerning the creation of the HIU (circulated earlier in the year) indicated it would involve a mix of officers from inside and outside the Province.
Meanwhile Kenny Donaldson of lobby group Innocent Victims United, said that over the last two years the secretary of state had given him assurance “there would be no debarring” of serving or former Northern Irish police.
To do so would be “a further sop to republicans” who are intent on trying to “denigrate” the Province’s own state forces, he said.
Mr Beattie said he was told the information about the HIU’s proposed make-up by a senior DoJ official and a senior police officer at a seminar within the last fortnight.
The two individuals told Mr Beattie the plan is for the HIU to have no current or past Northern Ireland police officers on it (although officers from Great Britain or the Republic of Ireland could sit on it) and that the reason is because of the outcome of at least one recent judicial review.
The DoJ official indicated that its findings had been interpreted to mean the involvement of PSNI, ex-PSNI or RUC officers in any HIU cases could leave the unit’s work open to challenge, on the basis that its investigations would not be impartial.
Mr Beattie believes the judicial review in question concerns the “Glenanne Gang” (a loyalist paramilitary outfit which has been said to have operated with state collusion), the findings for which were delivered on July 28 this year.
The HIU is essentially supposed to be the successor to the now-defunct Historical Enquiries Team, which was wound up in 2014 after a review found it was treating cases of alleged state wrongdoing with “less rigour”.
In July’s judicial review findings, Mr Justice Treacy had said the PSNI chief constable’s decision to transfer the work of the Historic Enquiries Team into a branch of the PSNI had “frustrated any possibility that there would be an effective investigation in the Glenanne cases”.
Mr Beattie was told that the chief constable will challenge this judicial review.
Asked about Mr Beattie’s remarks, the PSNI said it was a matter for the DoJ. The DoJ had not responded at the time of going to press last night.