The DUP entered all-party discussions on legacy issues with a key priority— to find a mechanism to ensure the best possible chance of justice for the innocent victims of terrorism.
I understand the anger of innocent victims — it is borne out of deep frustration and the injustice suffered.
For too long, innocent victims of terrorism have been denied justice.
Over 90% of deaths during the Troubles were caused by paramilitaries, yet few families have had justice. Only a small minority of cases were ever brought before the courts and the perpetrator successfully convicted. This is wrong. Justice has been denied and has, undoubtedly, added to the grief and pain of many families who lost loved ones in such terrible and unjustified circumstances.
The government responded to the appalling conviction rate by creating the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) in 2005. This only provided a review, not a proper or full re-investigation. We know many families are deeply unhappy with the outcome of their HET experience.
The PSNI stood accused of starving HET of resources and it was eventually wound up in 2014 due to budget constraints. The legacy unit of the PSNI is examining just a handful of cases.
While the largely state-focused inquests and Police Ombudsman investigations continue, albeit slowly, investigations into terrorist murders are stalled. This creates a disproportionate and unfair approach to dealing with the past, focusing on a small minority of cases.
Currently almost no investigations are ongoing for the innocent victims of terrorism.
That is why we cannot do nothing. Any lack of agreement on proposals to deal with these issues impacts most on the innocent victims of the Troubles, because the other cases are currently proceeding. The status quo is not acceptable. We need to agree a new mechanism to give victims access to a full and proper police investigation.
We are not wedded to any specific mechanism or structure — we simply want one that delivers the best chance of justice for victims.
The DUP repeatedly called for the secretary of state to release proposals for consultation to ensure victims could have their views heard and action taken. We said the process must be victim-led and victim-centred. That means listening to and representing the views of victims in the process. We want to hear those views about how best to move forward.
I want to see the best possible set of arrangements for dealing with the dreadful legacy of the past and ensure that access to justice is not denied to families.
The consultation proposes a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) with full policing powers to investigate, a dedicated task of examining legacy cases and with ring-fenced funding to ensure legacy cases can never again be starved of resources. This was based on addressing the shortfalls of the HET process.
The DUP has heard the desire of those with unsatisfactory HET reports to get access to a full and proper investigation — we agree this must be included in any final proposals.
Justice must be done. We cannot allow any further rewriting of the past where those who committed heinous crimes, who have never apologised for their actions, now audaciously preach to victims about so called equality. That is shameful.
Victims deserve and need this new, proper and full investigatory process. The key question is how best to do that to deliver justice.
The consultation is about victims. I want them to make their voice heard loud and clear on how justice denied can become justice delivered.
• Emma Little-Pengelly is DUP MP for South Belfast