Concerns have been raised after the victims’ commissioner called for the appointment of a “shadow director” for a controversial new police unit to investigate Troubles-related murders.
Victims’ Commissioner Judith Thompson made the call as she announced the appointment of 13 new members of the Victims and Survivors Forum yesterday.
Forum members are drawn from a wider panel of victims and survivors who assist the commission on issues relating to victims of the Troubles.
In a statement, the commission said that “as part of the consultation process the commissioner is inviting the secretary of state to begin consultations on the draft legislation with the forum and with victims groups”.
She also asked James Brokenshire to “consider the appointment of a shadow director to the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) as soon as broad agreement on the legislation is achieved”.
“This would enable victims and survivors to be engaged immediately in designing communication and reporting processes for the HIU which are as victim centred as possible. It would also be a sign of good faith and intent in the delivery of the institutions that have been promised.”
But the leader of the UUP political talks team, Tom Elliott MP, said he was “deeply concerned” about the HIU.
“I can understand why the victims’ commissioner is exasperated with the lack of political progress,” he said.
“That said, I and the Ulster Unionist Party continue to be deeply concerned about the proposed Historical Investigations Unit and the prospect of it actually delivering for victims. I’m also not sure if there is widespread support throughout the victims sector for the Stormont House legacy proposals.
“Victims’ hopes have been raised and dashed too many times – they shouldn’t be sold any further false promises.”
Kenny Donaldson, director of services at victims’ group the South East Fermanagh Foundation, agreed that the HIU as proposed “does not have the support of very many innocent victims and survivors of terrorism”.
This was clear on Wednesday when SEFF and others met with the secretary of state, he said.
“The Victims’ Commission knows our concerns and those of others who share our analysis because we have directly raised such matters with her on previous occasions, and have also been consistent in our public comments.”
His concerns on HIU are that it would have no authority over legacy inquests; may exclude certain groups from staff; may not probe cases covered by the Historical Enquiries Team; may not hold the Irish state accountable; may have uncertain processes as to how and why cases can be reopened; may be impacted by OTR comfort letters, and may not have a clear commitment by the Republic of Ireland and UK to disclose evidence.
But DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson supported the commissioner’s call.
“The HIU will be a vital part of the new legacy arrangements and it is crucial that we get agreement to see these new bodies established and working as soon as possible,” he said.
“Given the importance of the HIU to victims and survivors, we have no objection in principle to the proposal put forward by Judith Thompson, subject to the necessary legislative arrangements being made for such a shadow appointment.
“We agree that having such a liaison role in the early stages would help the HIU director in establishing meaningful communication with victims and survivors.”
The 13 new forum members are:
Jeremy Adams, Co Antrim
In 1974, Jeremy’s next door neighbour (a resident magistrate) was murdered by the IRA, which also tried to murder his father. As an RUC officer Jeremy was seriously injured in an IRA attack at Newry Courthouse.
Alan Brecknell, Co Armagh
Alan’s father, Trevor, was killed along with two others in 1975 in a gun and bomb attack on a bar in south Armagh. The attack was claimed in the name of the Red Hand Commando. He works with a human rights NGO.
Hazel Deeney, Londonderry
Hazel’s husband Trevor was killed on April 8 1998 by the INLA in the driveway of their house. Hazel had to raise four children ranging in age from 10 to 14 on her own.
Mina Jadeja, London
Mina was injured in the IRA Harrods bomb in 1983. She suffered multiple injuries and burns and lost the use of her right hand for many years and still suffers pain.
Kathryn Johnston, Co Down
Kathryn was 17 when her father, Constable Harry Beckett, was shot dead on duty in Belfast city centre, June 1990.
Donald Mackay, Co Armagh
Donald served nine years as a part-time member of the UDR. Some of his UDR colleagues were murdered by the IRA.
Robert McClenaghan, Co Antrim.
Robert’s grandfather, Philip Garry, was killed in the McGurk’s Bar bombing in 1971.
Emmett McConomy, Londonderry
Emmett’s 11-year-old brother Stephen McConomy was shot by a British Army soldier with a plastic bullet in the back of the head on the April 16 1982. Stephen died three days later.
Denise Mullen, Co. Tyrone
On September 1 1975, when she was four-years-old, Denise witnessed the murder of her father, Denis Mullen, and the attempted murder of her mother, Olive, by the Glenanne Gang. Her parents were SDLP political activists.
Jackie Nicholl, Co Antrim
Jackie’s son Colin was killed in 1971 in the Balmoral Showroom bomb along with another child. Colin was 17 months old.
Carmel Rooney, Co Fermanagh
Carmel experienced Troubles-related violence as a witness in the 1970s along with many others across the Province. Her focus is to meet victims’ needs.
Minty Thompson, Londonderry
On November 6 1971, when Minty was 12, her mother Kathleen was shot dead by the British Army in the back garden of their home in Creggan.
Sam Wilson, Co Armagh
Sam served in the RUC reserve and as a part time member of the UDR. A number of close friends and a very close cousin and RUC officer Edward Spence was also killed in May 1991.
l Profiles provided by the Victims’ Commission