The Government must prove it is serious about dealing with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s troubled past, Martin McGuinness has said.
The Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister said he has seen no evidence to back up statements from recently appointed Secretary of State James Brokenshire that he wants to prioritise the task of finding a way forward.
Mr McGuinness and party colleagues met Mr Brokenshire at Stormont House in Belfast to reiterate the party’s call for intensive political negotiations to tackle an impasse that is preventing the establishment of new mechanisms to address the needs of victims.
“We very forcibly said we need this period of negotiation - is this going to happen, are you up for it?” he said.
“It remains to be seen, over the course of the next while, whether they are up for it.”
The new mechanisms and an accompanying multimillion-pound Government funding package are stuck in the starting blocks due to a dispute between Sinn Fein and the Government on the extent of state disclosure of official papers linked to Troubles crimes.
The package agreed by Stormont leaders and the UK and Irish governments, which includes a new investigations unit, a truth recovery mechanism, an oral history archive, and enhanced funding for Troubles related inquests, will not become reality until the wrangle over how relatives can challenge the non-disclosure of papers deemed to touch on national security matters.
The stalled suite of measures, first outlined in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement, was not incorporated into last November’s landmark Fresh Start political deal that returned a measure of stability to Stormont’s rocking power-sharing institutions.
Politicians instead affirmed a commitment to overcoming the logjam.
Mr McGuinness said he would not set a deadline for a resolution but said he would like to see progress before the first anniversary of the Fresh Start deal on November 17.
“There was a lot of straight talking done at the meeting and I hope the British Government will recognise that they have to fulfil their responsibilities also and the best way to do that is to ensure the legacy issues which remain outstanding find a resolution in the next short while,” he said.
The Sinn Fein veteran said his party’s negotiating team stood ready to engage.
“I do hope the Government will be seized by the fact that Fresh Start almost is a year old,” he said.
“We haven’t put a deadline on it or a timeframe on it but I do think it would be nice to get this done before the anniversary.”
Emerging from the meeting with Mr Brokenshire, Mr McGuinness also criticised Prime Minister Theresa May’s comments at last week’s Conservative Party conference when she vowed not to allow “activist left-wing human rights lawyers” to “harangue and harass” members of the British armed forces.
“That was a massive affront to lawyers here,” said Mr McGuinness.
“Particularly against the backdrop of two of them - Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson - being murdered by loyalist paramilitaries.”
A Government spokesman said: “The UK Government has a manifesto commitment to deliver the Stormont House Agreement, including the establishment of the new legacy bodies, and the Secretary of State is clear that he wants to see the bodies up and running as quickly as possible.
“With this in mind, he has met all the main political parties to discuss this, along with a number of victims’ groups. He is clear that the process would benefit from a more public phase.
“It is important that the public have its say to build confidence in the new bodies so that they can get on with their work from the outset and make a difference for those people we have a duty to help. But these bodies will only work if they can command support and confidence from across the entire community.
“The Secretary of State is committed to finding a way forward in addressing the issues of the past. Indeed, the UK Government has gone further than any of its predecessors in bringing this issue to a resolution, and we will continue to work with the NI political parties to help bring this issue to a conclusion.”