In Wednesday’s edition of this newspaper (see link below), the DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly wrote about her party’s approach to dealing with the legacy of our violent past, an issue currently out for public consultation by the Northern Ireland Office, who want your opinion on the new structures outlined in the Stormont House Agreement.
In terms of the DUP’s key priority, Emma said it was “to find a mechanism to ensure the best possible chance of justice for the innocent victims of terrorism”.
The central proposal to achieve this is the Historical Investigation Unit (HIU), a parallel police force to the PSNI, with the same powers of arrest, detention and everything else that goes with a fully functional police force, but with significantly less oversight.
The fatal flaw with the HIU is that it excludes many more victims than it is designed to include. Specifically, it is proposed it will investigate only 1,700 of the 3,500-plus Troubles-related killings and none of the 47,000 injured.
Can you imagine the reaction if Chief Constable George Hamilton said in future the PSNI would only investigate car crashes where someone was killed?
It is beyond belief that the police could ignore a road traffic incident where six people suffered life altering injuries, but ignoring the injured is exactly what is being proposed for the HIU.
On Monday September 28 2015, Emma’s colleague, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, also writing in the News Letter claimed: “The Stormont House Agreement provides a good deal for victims and survivors”.
Again, there is a problem with Sir Jeffrey’s commentary — no survivor injured by terrorism will have access to the HIU.
The fact the proposals offer no new mechanism for the injured to seek justice is perverse and clearly fails the NIO’s own test, namely that the proposals are “balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable”.
There is nothing fair or equitable about designing a new mechanism to deliver justice that denies the chance of justice to the vast majority of victims and survivors.
I was with Emma Little-Pengelly on Monday evening, when we debated the proposals with a packed audience of survivors in Stormont’s Long Gallery. I was surprised when she told the audience she was not wedded to any of the proposals listed in the consultation, including the HIU.
My surprise is because I was also with Emma on December 17 2013 in the Stormont Hotel and two days later in the Ulster Unionist Meeting Room on the second floor of Parliament Buildings when Emma and Sir Jeffrey tried to sell the concept of the HIU to me, Lord Empey, Tom Elliott, Danny Kennedy and others. They failed. We did not, do not and never will support these proposals.
The HIU is not simply the son of the defunct HET, the Historical Enquiries Team set up by then Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde, to review the case files of every conflict-related killing.
The differences are key. The HET was a branch of the PSNI, arguably the most accountable police service in the world, overseen by bodies including the Policing Board of Northern Ireland, the Office of the Police Ombudsman and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.
The HET did not investigate killings, they simply reviewed the information stored in police files; the HIU will offer something fuller and better, a proper police investigation, but only into 1,700 killings. We cannot support such a hierarchy of victims.
It is said 60% of all Troubles killings are down to the IRA, 30% to loyalist terrorism and 10% to the security forces — and of course, most of the latter were fully justified, lawful actions by the legitimate agents of the state. But when it comes to the 47,000 injured (a figure from the police) the percentage injured by the terrorists must be as high as 98% or 99%, because the Army did not tar and feather, the police did not drag people down dark alleys to blow their kneecaps away and the state did not detonate No Warning car bombs.
Yet the HIU, a child of DUP thinking, will let these grave and scandalous abuses of human rights go unchallenged without investigation. We say Do Not Forget the Injured.
If Emma Little-Pengelly is hitting reverse gear on the HIU she has previously championed, then we appear to be looking at Maze II, a repeat of the DUP’s decision to stop backing Sinn Féin in promoting a terrorist shrine at the former prison site outside Lisburn.
We all remember then First Minister Peter Robinson’s Letter from America, reversing a long-held DUP policy that flew in the face of the wishes of the innocent victims.
The Ulster Unionist Party call is simple. We want the DUP to do what they did with the Maze — listen to the victims and withdraw support for the HIU. In politics, it is difficult to admit you are wrong, but if the DUP can do it once with the terrorist shrine, they can do it again with the HIU.
It would be obscene to play any part in allowing those who created victims to excuse their actions through a mechanism that is clearly not balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable.
• Mike Nesbitt MLA is a former leader of the Ulster Unionists