Doug Beattie: If Johnny Mercer thinks the treatment of ex security forces is bad now, wait until he sees the planned legacy unit

Johnny Mercer, third from left, beside policeman, joins other MPs or ex MPs to hand in a petition to 10 Downing Street last October signed by 104 MPs and peers and senior ex military figures calling for lasting legal protection for veterans. Among them, pictured third from right, is Danny Kinahan, the former Ulster Unionist Party MP. Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire
Johnny Mercer, third from left, beside policeman, joins other MPs or ex MPs to hand in a petition to 10 Downing Street last October signed by 104 MPs and peers and senior ex military figures calling for lasting legal protection for veterans. Among them, pictured third from right, is Danny Kinahan, the former Ulster Unionist Party MP. Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

For some reason, in the DUP/Sinn Fein talks of February 2018, there was no mention of any of the proposed legacy mechanisms.

Yet even without this conversation earlier this year, the Department of Justice delivered one of Sinn Fein’s key demands — legacy coroners Investigations — seemly over the head of the DUP who had refused this key demand.

Doug Beattie MC MLA is Ulster Unionist justice spokesperson

Doug Beattie MC MLA is Ulster Unionist justice spokesperson

Fast forward to the present talks and yet again legacy, which has dogged us for so many years, has been left out of the main process.

A staggering omission.

The Ulster Unionist Party raised this issue with the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) last week and we were assured we would have sight of the consultation analysis before talks started.

What we are now hearing is that the secretary of state will make an announcement in Westminster next week in respect to legacy, that two legacy working groups will be set up — to last for weeks not months — and legislation will be brought before Westminster sometime in the autumn.

Notwithstanding the recent comments from Johnny Mercer MP, if he thinks things are bad now, then just wait until the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) gets up and running.

It is clear that MPs do not understand the nuances around legacy which are supported by government partners in the form of the DUP.

In particular, the serious attack on the reputation of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

All this gives a clear impression that the Sinn Fein and DUP brokered deal in the Stormont House Agreement is likely to be forced through regardless of the many concerns that have been expressed.

The public consultation on legacy ended seven months ago with over 17,000 replies.

The vast majority of these replies were extremely critical of the proposed legacy mechanisms, in particular the HIU.

The NIO, in conversation, offered up two of the main changes that may need to happen regarding the HIU.

Firstly, that the caseload needs to be extended to those who received a Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report which was nothing more than a desktop review.

Secondly that the caseload should be extended to include cases throughout the UK.

These changes would increase the caseload from approximately 1,600 cases of investigations into murders, to possibly 3,000 cases or more.

The question therefore is, how long will this take and how much extra funding will be required?

At the moment the HIU is set to last 5-7 years and deal with 1,600 cases and has been given a resource contribution of £150 million for its lifetime.

With the increase of cases you can simply extrapolate these figures to say the process will take 10-14 years — although I’d be saying more like 20+ years — and the funding black hole becomes considerable with the block grant having to pick up the burden.

Shamefully, there is also a proposal to institute a charge of ‘non-criminal police misconduct’ which will be used to target former RUC officers, even dead ones.

There is something morally repugnant at the thought of the men and women who stood bravely in uniforms between the terrorists and the terrorised, having their good names and reputations unfairly tarnished to placate the very people who have now removed their balaclavas and seek to re-brand themselves as the guardians of human rights and justice.

There are other issues of concern— not least around the powers of the director of the HIU and the question of how we deal with the seriously injured who never received an investigation.

There is also the matter of the information flow from the Irish Republic which will be redacted before investigation, while UK sourced information will be redacted after investigation.

There is also no resolution to the hundreds of murders that emanated from the Irish Republic or those kidnapped in Northern Ireland, taken into the Irish Republic and murdered.

Finally, we still have the outlandish definition of a victim.

My concern is that, like legacy’s omission in February 2018, the omission of it in May 2019 is because a seedy back door deal has been struck between the UK government and Sinn Fein on legacy.

If this is the case and the HIU is going to be delivered regardless, then it either must have at least tacit support from the DUP, or else the UK government is going over the head of the DUP.

The Ulster Unionist Party’s concerns over the inherent flaws in the HIU are echoed across the victims and survivors’ spectrum.

The reality for me is this. If the talks process is to bring forward a deal then it must include talks about legacy, and therefore the NIO must — as promised — bring forward the public consultation analysis and explain how they are going to deal with the major structural problems that have been identified.

It will become clear that the Sinn Fein/DUP plan for legacy is inherently flawed.

Nor will it have the support of victims and survivors, it will not have input from terrorists, and state forces will not lend themselves to a process designed to put their actions squarely at the top of the pile whilst ignoring the actions of the terrorists who were responsible for 90% Troubles related deaths.

This festering sore must be dealt with or any deal that emerges will be built on sand.

• Doug Beattie MC MLA is Ulster Unionist justice spokesperson

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