The government has announced an extension in the deadline to the public consultation on how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.
The consultation was due to end on Monday September 10, but has now been extended by three weeks to Friday October 5.
Karen Bradley, the secretary of state, said: “The legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland is an enormously sensitive and emotive issue, and I want to make sure everyone’s voice is heard as we move forward.
“I have listened to those who want to take a little bit more time to consider their responses — particularly those individuals who have been most affected by the Troubles, including victims and survivors and former police officers and veterans — and I am happy to extend the deadline so that they can have their say.”
The consultation, Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past, was launched by the government in May.
In a press release yesterday, the Northern Ireland Office said that the aim of the consultation was “to find the best way to meet the needs of victims and survivors and to help people address the impact of the Troubles. in the areas of information, justice and acknowledgement and help Northern Ireland transition to long term-term peace and stability”.
The release said that anyone who wishes to give their views can find more information at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/addressing-the-legacy-of-northern-irelands-past
The South Armagh victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer had called for an extension in the legacy deadline, as had the Ulster Unionist Party.
Its leader Robin Swann said in an article in the News Letter last week: “The Ulster Unionist Party believes that the consultation paper ‘Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past’ heralds one of the most important consultation processes that has ever taken place in Northern Ireland. Its consequences will be both far-reaching and long-lasting. We believe that it is crucial that people speak up and have their say.” Yesterday he said that he was “extremely pleased that the government has agreed to the Ulster Unionist Party’s request for its Legacy consultation deadline to be extended”.
Mr Swann added: “Last week I wrote to the prime minister, the secretary of state, and the other local party leaders seeking support for just such an extension, because I believe that the consultation paper ‘Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past’ heralds one of the most important consultation processes that has ever taken place in Northern Ireland, and its consequences will be both far-reaching and long-lasting.
“We called for an extension because a number of groups representing victims and indeed individual victims themselves and the wider community, have raised concerns with the Ulster Unionist Party, telling us that they required more time to properly assess the proposals and make a response.”
Mr Swann said: “How we deal with the past has been on the agenda of political talks since before the Haass process in late 2013 and it needs to be resolved in a manner that is – to quote from the general principles of the draft bill — ‘balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable.’ It is our opinion that the draft bill which is being consulted on does not meet these tests, particularly the proposal to establish a Historical Investigations Unit.
“Having secured this extension until Friday 5th October, it is absolutely vital that everyone makes their views known to the Government and not leave it up to others to do so, otherwise their silence might be taken for consent.”
Kenny Donaldson, director of services at the victims’ group South East Fermanagh Foundation, said yesterday: “We are easy about the decision to extend the deadline, for us the key issue is that the NIO and Government have made a policy transition over the period of the consultation process, no longer are they sating that the consultation is about the ‘implementation of previously politically agreed structures’ but rather are now acknowledging that legislation will only go forward on the basis of there being ‘sufficient community confidence’.
“The structures as proposed do not have the confidence of large swathes of the innocent victims/survivors of terrorism constituency and serious reform must come if there is to be support garnered, belatedly the NIO and the UK government along with others are realising this.”
Mr Donaldson added: “We will continue over the forthcoming weeks to highlight the inequalities within the current structures as proposed and how they cannot and will not deliver balance or fairness. It’ll be up to government to at long last heed what they’re hearing from innocent victims/survivors of terrorism and respond accordingly.
“Failure to do so is recklessness in the extreme.”
The News Letter has been running a series of essays called Stop The Legacy Scandal which has given a platform to the deep concern there is among victims of terrorism and ex security forces at some of the proposals for the legacy legislation, amid fears that there is a disproportionate focus on the state.