Over last summer our victims’ organisations, Innocent Victims United (IVU) and South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) facilitated 11 consultation events on the proposals to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.
More than 1,050 individual victims/survivors and other interested stakeholders came to offer their views on the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) plan.
To our best knowledge we were also the only victims’ groups that held a public consultation with young people aged 13-18 years; we recognise as an organisation that the decisions taken now around legacy will not only affect those directly impacted but will also have implications for today’s generation and the generations to come.
The verdict of these consultation meetings and the feedback sheets generated, along with the 500 plus formal responses that SEFF assisted victims/survivors with, and the hundreds of telephone support queries, was that the current proposals do not represent a means by which innocent victims and survivors of terrorism might see accountability and achieve resolution.
The core objections which our constituency have with the proposals are as follows:
1. Definition of Victim
Over 95% of those we engaged with cited this issue as being the number one priority for them, stating that the current definition which equates the innocent with the perpetrator is the core cause of their ongoing retraumatisation.
Looks and smells like a re-branded HET with an ombudsman component.
There is a thread which runs throughout the Consultation document and DRAFT Bill – holding the UK State accountable whereas the terror organisations are not going to come under the same scrutiny, nor will the Republic of Ireland state.
3. HIU reports
These can contain findings of impropriety on the part of former members of the security forces without any means of redress by the said individuals. These can be merely unfounded allegations, and the accused will be given no chance to defend him/herself in a court.
4. Reports produced by HIU
These will produce findings against former members of the security forces that will have a lower level of proof, ‘on the balance of probability,’ yet there is not a comparable process concerning terror organisations and their actions.
If there is high grade intelligence that a certain suspect terrorist was the perpetrator of a terrorist crime, then on the ‘balance of probabilities’ they committed that crime, therefore they should be named in the same way.
5. The powers of the HIU director
The current proposals mean that the director has full autonomy without any meaningful checks and balances of his/her decision making processes.
6. Excluded cases
Those cases which have been examined by the HET and those deaths attributable to ‘the Troubles’ carried out in the Republic of Ireland and GB must also receive a comparable Article Two investigation, otherwise the whole system is skewed and those families impacted will be further discriminated and disenfranchised.
7. The Information Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR)
This is an impracticable body, with loose structures that do not make logical sense. In real terms, the proposal is that an investigative body, the HIU, can conduct an investigation of a case alongside an non-investigative body, the ICIR. No-one can answer the crucial point; where is there any evidence to suggest that those who have engaged in violence have reached a point where they want to provide information.
8. OHA (Oral History Archive)
As constructed this will be a repository for a communal narrative, lending the notion once more that we were all to blame for the 30 years of terror. A terrorist is never going to give a full version of their role, sanitising his/her own involvement in the same way the terror organisations are minimising their role in the attempted destruction of this country.
There are no evident checks and balances around ensuring accuracy nor the fullness of an individual’s history, where they may also have been a perpetrator as well as experiencing a crime whether directly or indirectly.
The historical timeline element proposed should provide a factual analysis of key events over the years of ‘the Troubles’ which should and must then be the foundation for the teaching of Irish/Northern Irish history within our various sectors of education – which all receive public funding. The days of autonomy to potentially propagate young minds with sanitised versions of history must end.
9. The Implementation and Reconciliation Group (IRG)
This is an institution that suggests it will ‘promote reconciliation and anti-sectarianism’, and will bring together the themes from the other three legacy structures. There exists no working definitions of the likely themes – whether collusion, ethnic cleansing etc and there is no agreed understanding as to what reconciliation is and how that outcome can actually be measured.
10. The absence of acknowledgement statements
Their absence at the beginning of the process from the terrorist organisations, their political annexes and the two states means that there is no foundation stone.
Without an acknowledgement that in the context of ‘the Troubles’ and notwithstanding real or perceived grievances experienced or felt that there was no legitimacy for the use of criminal violence in the furtherance of or defence of a political objective, there cannot be societal reconciliation and the potential for reconciliation and healing for those individuals most impacted is also significantly hampered.
This analysis is not our individual view, these points are based on the SEFF response to the NIO legacy proposals, and concurs with the many organisations that make up IVU, representing 23 victims’ and survivors’ groups and some 11,500 members.
The NIO proposals do not meet the needs of innocent victims and need serious restructuring before they can receive our support.
Summed up simply, there is insufficient consideration within the proposals of the need to ensure terrorists face accountability for their crimes.
The terror organisations have already reaped the rewards of a manipulated political and justice system and there is limited opportunity to hold terror accountable through the structures proposed. And the Republic of Ireland state (as one of the two states involved present and past) is ‘On the Run’ – they are simply missing in action.
Those who claim to represent the interests of our constituency must not only hear but for once act upon the legitimate concerns and demands of innocent victims.
If you decide to railroad through these structures with tinkering around the edges and not fundamental overhaul then you are doing so for your interests and not the interests of the innocent victims/survivors of terrorism.
• Kenny Donaldson is IVU spokesman and Ken Funston is SEFF’s advocacy services manager
• Morning View: Victims can give lie to notion that legacy is victim-centred