Whilst I obviously welcome the DUP’s new public position of opposing the creation of a charge of non-criminal police misconduct before 1998, as part of the government’s legacy bill, the fact remains that it only comes two weeks out from an election and after months of pressure from the Ulster Unionist Party.
Furthermore, it has only been extracted from them reluctantly at a press conference and does not form part of their manifesto.
It would therefore be helpful and provide reassurance to the many vulnerable people — not least retired RUC officers and victims groups — if the DUP was to confirm clearly what they will not accept in any legacy bill and what they will do if the bill proceeds as planned.
Calling for unspecified “substantial changes” to the bill will not suffice when the new government on the advice of the Northern Ireland Office will press for rapid legislative implementation with minimum media interest.
Previously the DUP complained confusingly that, “It would be an overhaul of established practice for civilians to be pursued for alleged disciplinary matters as public servants, when retired or deceased”. At the same time, they unwisely suggested collusion should be defined in law despite many existing offences being available. We need clarity not vagueness.
None the less this is indeed a radical and welcome departure from the party’s near silence and non-engagement with critics, but the question remains as to why it has taken the DUP so long to arrive at this position, and just how committed they really are to it, given their longstanding support for the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) in some form and the Stormont House legacy arrangements.
Indeed the main legal adviser on the DUP side was Emma Little Pengelly and she must now resile openly from support for the HIU in either a local or the suggested UK form.
That said, it is now time for the secretary of state — post the election — to review the position with regard to legacy.
The Ulster Unionist Party will be asking for the whole bill to be set aside by the new government and a full review of legacy policy and of the relentless lawfare in our courts instead, so that we can thwart the rewriting of history, and agree on a process that is truly balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable.
Jeff Dudgeon, UUP human rights campaigner, former councillor