There have been many proficient contributors to this series of essays in the News Letter on the legacy imbalance who have forensically analysed the Northern Ireland Office legacy proposals.
Rather than say more of the same I have chosen to focus on two core themes:
1. Where the current anger within innocent victims/survivors of terrorism has come from.
2. In layperson’s terms why the current proposals fail to deliver a way forward which is equitable, proportionate and fair.
For 35 years thousands of people joined the security forces (police and military), served as prison officers or were members of the judiciary.
They operated roles where the objective was combating terrorism or holding terrorists accountable for their actions or, in the case of the prison service, where they had to effectively live with terrorists when they were incarcerated for the crimes they committed.
The vast majority of such individuals performed their roles with honour, restraint and a commitment to do right by the community.
And then there is a cohort of others who lived within communities, often as the Protestant minority.
They saw family and friends murdered and maimed before them, they were intimidated and in some cases forced away from their ancestral homes and land and why? Naked sectarian and ethnic hatred.
The Provisional IRA’s ceasefire of 1994 was an acknowledgement of defeat by the republican movement. It realised that it could not achieve its objectives through criminal violence.
However the decision of the UK government to embark upon a peace process which would lead to a power sharing executive and which would also include an unreformed Provisional movement through its political arm Sinn Fein had the impact of emboldening republicans.
Across Northern Ireland those who had shown restraint and remained dignified over the years of ‘the Troubles’ were becoming more and more frustrated as they watched the leaders of terrorism and fascism being lauded by governments, by some within our churches and many others across civic society.
The acceleration of appeasement of such individuals through actions such as: a victims definition which equates perpetrators and the innocent within the law, the covert introduction of initiatives to compromise the criminal justice system including On The Run assurance letters and Royal Prerogatives of Mercy.
The common remark made by the constituency of people that we work with is: why are government so unconcerned? why we have effectively been cast as anti-peace?
A cornerstone of Innocent Victims United’s (IVU) campaign, which has run throughout the period of the legacy consultation on the structures first proposed in the Stormont House Agreement, is the necessity for equality of access and treatment for victims/survivors irrespective of where they happen to live.
The proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) was sold to us as a means of redressing current imbalances.
Just who is the proposed new HIU investigative process for?
Mainland European deaths (19) — of which 15 were murders committed by Provisional IRA terrorists? No
Great Britain deaths (124 estimate) — of which all connect with Republican terrorism? No
Republic of Ireland (114 est) — 0f which all connect with terrorism (whether republican or loyalist)? No
Historical Enquiries Team (HET) completed reviews into 2,051 deaths? No (with the exception of those cases which allege wrongdoing by the state, said to be 354 est deaths out of 3,687 est)
It will certainly work for those who ideologically want to tarnish the RUC, who will see hundreds of alleged misconduct cases investigated and judged to the balance of probabilities, with limited means of redress for those accused — as the lawyer Neil Faris explained in his excellent essay for this series.
Anyone who would claim that the current remit will provide balance, proportionality and equity is deluded.
We are insistent that any potential HIU or other investigative body must have scope to examine cases which had a mere review by the HET.
We are further insistent that similar provision must be introduced in the Republic of Ireland to examine ‘Troubles related deaths’ in that jurisdiction and to assist constructively in the 500 plus murders committed in our borderlands which had strong cross border aspects to the actions.
As for the other legacy bodies, my colleague in South East Fermanagh Foundation Ken Funston explained the fears we all have on them.
The Information Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR), where there is no watertight process for the verifying of information provided to the ICIR, and potential for an abuse of process where different victims/survivors impacted by a multi atrocity could engage with the HIU and others with the ICIR simultaneously.
Or the Oral History Archive (OHA), which has the potential to provide some clarity around the indisputable facts of the Troubles but opportunities for terrorists and their apologists to misrepresent the past.
What validity can the Implementation and Reconciliation Group (IRG) have for reporting on so-called ‘themes’ which they have found in the investigations in the absence of working definitions of issues like collusion and ethnic cleansing (within the Northern Ireland context)?
To build trust and confidence we need upfront statements of acknowledgement from the UK and Republic of Ireland states, the proscribed terrorist organisations, their political annexes and others, that there was no justification for the taking of human through criminal violence.
Those who suggest that acknowledgement statements should not come until the end of the process do not understand the levels of distrust which exist. Statements could offer some much needed goodwill and be a durable foundation for the future.
The UK government has extended the consultation deadline until Friday October 5. We are easy about this. For us the key issue is that the NIO and government have made a policy transition over the period of the consultation. No longer are they saying that the consultation is about the “implementation of previously politically agreed structures” but are now acknowledging that legislation will only go forward on the basis of “sufficient community confidence”.
What is proposed is broken and does not have the confidence of swathes of the innocent victims/survivors of terror constituency.
Some people say Stormont House is the last opportunity to resolve these matters. We know many dismayed victims who would rather miss such a last chance even if it means nothing if the alternative is these structures in their current format and the ongoing whitewashing of terrorism.
• Kenny Donaldson is spokesman for Innocent Victims United, an umbrella organisation for 23 groups which collectively represent and support in excess of 11,500 individual victims/survivors of terrorism and other Troubles-related violence based in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Great Britain and further afield
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