Terror victims and survivors umbrella group Innocent Victims United posed ten questions to all political parties in the general election in Northern Ireland;-
Q1 What is your Party’s position on the current definition of victim? (N.I Order 2006) If you view it as unsustainable then how will you go about practically changing the definition?
The 2006 definition is totally unsatisfactory. Any future definition must clearly distinguish between those injured by the actions of others and those injured by their own actions, between those acting lawfully and those acting unlawfully.
It is morally unjustifiable that those innocent people injured by the actions of terrorists should be placed in the same category as those injured while carrying out acts of terror.
It is unlikely that Westminster would legislate over the heads of the Northern Ireland Assembly on this matter. It is therefore for the SDLP to be persuaded of the moral imperative for a new unambiguous and fair definition to allow it to pass through the Assembly. Without SDLP support, there is currently no prospect of a change in the legislation. We continue to press the case.
Q2 a) What is your Party’s position on the proposed Historical Investigations Unit? (b) Why are the powers for the HIU being devised at Westminster? (c) Do you believe an independent Police Force should investigate legacy killings? If so, why?
We have continually expressed reservations about this proposal. We continue to be concerned about a parallel police force. Ultimately we would have liked to have seen these investigations carried out by a unit within the PSNI and proposed a reformed, more efficient and effective HET, as we trust the PSNI to police yesterday as well as today.
However the Chief Constable has been clear that he does not want responsibility for policing the past and this has influenced our thinking.
Using Westminster is simply a practical matter. To avail of the money that has been made available by the Treasury for the new institutions arising from the Stormont House Agreement, the legislation needs passed in a timely manner.
The Assembly will have its say on this matter as it will require a Legislative Consent Motion at Stormont.
Q3 In the light of the Boston Tapes saga and recent Court cases, how will The Information Commission for Information Retrieval model work in providing information for victims of terrorism?
Throughout both Haass and Stormont House we were sceptical of the level of “truth” this process could provide. This is based on evidence: remember Martin McGuinness’s performance during the Saville Inquiry; look at the work of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains, and how many bodies remain “disappeared”; look at Justice Smithwick’s opinion of the IRA’s engagement with his inquiry into the murders of RUC officers Breen and Buchanan. Taken together, the evidence suggests victims will hear what the terrorists want them to hear.
That said, we would not stand in the way of a victim or survivor who wished to try the process and we are monitoring the proposed implementation to ensure it does not become a vehicle to deliver amnesty to terrorists or an opportunity to rewrite history.
Q4 Does your Party support parallel binding legislation being brought forward by the UK and R.O.I State’s simultaneously which insists on equal levels of disclosure, time limits etc?
We note the verbal commitment from the Irish Government during Stormont House to provide full disclosure and would welcome this being reflected in legislation.
Q5 What is your Party’s position on the proposed Pension for the Seriously Injured? Who should be eligible and how would your Party propose to see the Scheme introduced in legislation?
We support the principle of a pension for the severely disabled, but refer to our answer to Q1 regarding eligibility. This should be legislated for in a Bill passed through the NI Assembly.
We do not think this should be done at the expense of ignoring those many victims and survivors who suffer poor mental health and wellbeing.
Q6 What mechanisms does your Party propose in having ‘On the Run Comfort letters’ rescinded?
We should be in a position that a “comfort letter” sent to an On the Run will not collapse a trial or impede the pursuit of justice.
Those who received these comfort letters should receive a further letter to inform them that they are of no legal value.
Victims and survivors should be the ones receiving comfort.
Q7 What are your Party’s proposals on strengthening current legislation around the glorification of terrorism?
Tom Elliott has a Private Member’s Bill that has just finished it’s consultation period. This PMB would ban any publicly funded facilities or entities from being named after anyone convicted of a terrorist related offence or membership of a proscribed organisation.
We also support a toughening of the law around the glorification of terrorism at public events, commemorations or processions.
We would like to see more rigorous implementation of the UK Terrorism Act 2000.
Q8 As a prerequisite in dealing with ‘The Past,’ should the R.O.I State be first required to acknowledge the failures it made around issues of security and extradition as well as recognise its’ role in the initial formation of the IRA?
The historical timeline is intended to provide a detailed day by day account of what took place during the troubles. We would envisage the full role of the Irish Republic during the Troubles to be outlined in this.
A statement of acknowledgement, as referenced in the Stormont House Agreement, from the Irish Government and all others involved, is essential.
Q9 Does your Party support a single evidence-based historical timeline of ‘The Troubles’ or an historical timeline which also incorporates external source material eg storytelling/personal contributions and accounts?
We proposed the concept of a single, evidence based timeline and are pleased to see it has made it into the final Stormont House Agreement. This is a stand-alone project, separate from storytelling and we are closely monitoring the implementation of same to ensure appropriate separation between the two initiatives.
Regarding storytelling, we are confident that the narratives of those who bore the brunt of IRA terror will be the ones that will hold up against the test of time and scrutiny by future generations.
Q10 Does your Party support Article 2 Inquests in relation to legacy killings carried out over ‘The Troubles?’ If so, how do you propose that victims of terrorism will benefit?
We believe Article 2 was never intended to apply to our legacy inquests. How could it, when there is a duty to bring on “timely” investigations. However, the case law has brought these inquiries within the scope of Article 2 and the issue is subject to ongoing debate by the group discussing the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.
Our position is that we must protect against this, or any other process, being used for political advantage or the re-writing of history.