MPs seem not to realise that Stormont House legacy plan is dead, says lobby group for victims of terror
An organisation that deals with victims of terrorism has slammed MPs over a report they have issued today on the legacy of the Troubles.
Innocent Victims United (IVU) said that the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee (NIAC) needed to accept that “the Stormont House Agreement proposals [for legacy] are dead”.
Kenny Donaldson, spokesman for IVU, defended the UK government’s retreat from that 2014 deal, as the NIAC took the opposite position, describing the change “unilateral and unhelpful”.
In a report, MPs from the NIAC also condemned the government’s lack of consultation with victims’ groups as part of its revised plans to deal with the past violence.
The MPs are critical of the government’s revised approach that only Troubles killings with “compelling” new evidence and a realistic prospect of prosecution will receive a full police reinvestigation.
After an inquiry into the government’s dealing with the Troubles, the committee, in its interim report published today, said there was “considerable doubt” about their approach to historical killings.
In March, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said that, after a review, most unsolved cases would be closed and a new law would prevent those investigations from being reopened.
The committee said that decision raises “profound legal, ethical and human rights issues”.
Chairman of the committee Simon Hoare MP said: “Who will decide which cases should be closed and how? Can these decisions be appealed? What’s the definition of ‘new compelling evidence’ and who will decide that?”
“We’d expected those questions and others to be answered in the usual way in written and/or oral evidence, but the government failed to provide any such evidence.
“Consequently, this is necessarily an interim report until we receive it.
“We urge the UK government to urgently provide this evidence and invite the Irish government to do the same to help clarify the situation for victims.
“Despite assurances that this policy area would be addressed in a speedy manner, it’s seven months since the announcement of the new proposals, and we know nothing more.”
But Mr Donaldson said: “Not surprisingly the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee has rounded on the UK government’s approach to legacy and particularly its March 2020 statement.
“Whilst we would hold concerns for the gross lack of detail within that proposal, the NIAC committee need to face their own realities, The Stormont House Agreement proposals are dead and efforts must cease to revive those proposals.”
Mr Donaldson continued: “Chairman Simon Hoare talks about a lack of confidence and support in the UK government’s approach, he needs to also recognise that the largest constituency of victims and survivors and many, many others don’t support the Stormont House proposals which do not provide the means for innocent victims and survivors of terrorism to further their objectives.
“At the heart of the process we must have an acknowledgement by all stakeholders that irrespective of grievances held, whether real or perceived, that there was no justification for the use of criminal violence in the furtherance of or in defence of a political objective.”
The government’s March statement was a significant step away from mechanisms agreed by London, Dublin and most Stormont parties at Stormont House in 2014.
The committee of MPs said in today’s report: “This delay and uncertainty will only perpetuate an unacceptable wait for victims and the families affected that has already gone on far too long.”
Committee members said they were “dismayed” by the lack of consultation and engagement with representative groups’ on the government’s new approach before and since its publication.
They described Mr Lewis’s statement in March as a “unilateral and emphatic announcement of intent rather than part of a meaningful consultation process”.
“Peacebuilding in Northern Ireland has historically been based on establishing consensus and agreement,” the report added.
“Merely telling parties or organisations what government either has done or is about to do is not consultation.”
Mr Hoare added: “How we tackle the legacy of the Troubles is, understandably, an enormous challenge.
“Doing so effectively requires engagement and consultation with all parties to get them on board. It is imperative that any new system commands cross-community and widespread support for it to have legitimacy.
“The Stormont House Agreement, not without its weaknesses, had appeared to be the basis on which we could move forward, but the government’s new proposals are a unilateral departure from that.
“The report found there was a lack of consultation, not even with the very people it is supposed to serve; the victims.
“The move is counterproductive and seems more like a decree than a natural evolution of an agreed framework.”
Mr Hoare said that if the government fails to include victims’ groups and parties, there is “no buy-in, no legitimacy and no credibility for a way forward”.
He warned this will delay the wait for truth for families.
The committee has also called for the government to clarify its decision to abandon the model of a separate Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) and Independent Commission for Information Retrieval as set out in the Stormont House draft Bill.
The report said the government’s document does not explain how the proposed information recovery mechanism will work and that their “radio silence” since has been “thoroughly unhelpful”.
But Mr Donaldson challenged the need for an HIU: “IVU has submitted further proposals to the UK Government and other key stakeholders and we expect those proposals to be considered carefully, an HIU as envisaged is not needed, there is no necessity to establish a parallel separate police service to that which we already have and which has political support across the community”.
A spokeswoman for the government said: “We are moving forward as quickly as we can, and we remain committed to working with all parts of the community in Northern Ireland as part of this process.”
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