Doug Beattie: The NIO might push through legacy Historical Investigations Union to placate Sinn Fein over Bradley’s comments

Without a doubt the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland — Karen Bradley — put her foot squarely in her mouth when referring to Troubles related killings by the military.

Wednesday, 13th March 2019, 12:04 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th March 2019, 1:35 pm
Karen Bradley apologising on BBC for her references to Troubles killings by the military. "The secretary of state might now overcompensate"

She may well have clarified her remarks later and then indeed issued an apology but the damage was done.

It is important to be clear from the start. The law is the law and should be applied equally. No individual, be they soldier, policeman, terrorist, member of the public or politician, should be held to a greater or lesser standard than another.

The real concern however is that having spoken and completely misread the mood, or been alive to the strong sense of injustice by many victims, the secretary of state will now overcompensate.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie MC. Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

This overcompensation could well see some within the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) attempting to force through the introduction of the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU). 

The HIU is part of the legacy mechanisms agreed by Sinn Fein and the DUP at Stormont House.

Last year the government ran a public consultation on legacy arrangements, and received just under 18,000 responses from victims’ groups, interested organisations, concerned individuals, stakeholders and political parties. Informed sources indicate that very many responses are critical and that the HIU is not acceptable in its present form and would not clear Westminster.

The main areas of contention are numerous and complicated.

Having a HIU, which is geographically fixed, does not address the multiple murders that originated in Northern Ireland that took place throughout the UK. Neither does it address the murders in Northern Ireland that originated in the Irish Republic or indeed those individuals who were killed in the Irish Republic.

These cases include those of Captain Robert Nairac GC and Corporal Jim Elliott. Both kidnapped in Northern Ireland, tortured, taken across the border and brutally murdered. 

Secondly, many consultation responses made it clear that murders that were reviewed by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) must be included in the HIU work load. These murders were not fully investigated therefore must form part of this legacy output. This doubles the caseload. 

There is then the question of the severely injured. 

Not only do we have to ensure there is some kind of pension for those individuals unable to work since being injured through no fault of their own, we must investigate the circumstances surrounding the incidents that left so many in our society scared by the Troubles. The armless, legless, blind, burnt and mentally traumatised cannot be forgotten.

If they are to be denied an investigation purely because the terrorists failed in their attempt to murder them, then what kind of justice is that and what kind of future are we promoting?

We also need to properly address the inadequacy of the 2006 definition of a victim but even when that is achieved, we will still be faced with the fundamental problem of an HIU which will, through various mechanisms, undermine the RUC GC, not least via the charge of what is quaintly described as ‘non-criminal police misconduct.’

The HIU in its present form is not fit for purpose; the NIO know this and have briefed accordingly.

The fact Sinn Fein are now trying to force it through, shamefully supported by the DUP, shows that they are not willing to accept the findings of the public consultation.

Yet again they are trying to hold Northern Ireland to ransom by not entering talks until all their demands are met regardless of what victims want.

For those who say the HIU is imperfect but should go ahead regardless, I ask them who do they believe should be excluded from this investigatory workload?

The injured, those who had a HET report, those murdered in Great Britain or the Irish Republic, policemen, soldiers?

Karen Bradley must not be bullied into overcompensating for her failure to understand the mood in Northern Ireland. We have one chance to get this right.

The HIU is a flawed proposal that originated as part of the Stormont House Agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein. It was not agreed by all parties and the Ulster Unionist Party has been clear that we cannot support this betrayal of victims.

• Doug Beattie MC MLA is Ulster Unionist spokesperson on legacy