Victims grill politicians at Stormont over bill to deal with past

SDLP West Belfast MLA Alex Attwood addresses the meeting at Stormont
SDLP West Belfast MLA Alex Attwood addresses the meeting at Stormont

Some 100 terror victims grilled politicians on Wednesday night at Stormont about the bill being shaped by politicans which will govern how the past is going to be resolved.

The event, organised by Innocent Victims United, was titled “Stormont House Agreement, political breakthrough or SHAm?”

DUP MLA Emma Pengelly said the DUP’s top priority was justice for victims and insisted there was “no amnesty” in the emerging bill.

The proposed Historical Inquiries Unit (HIU) will be much superior to the previous Historical Enquiries Team, she added.

On Wednesday the News Letter reported that Justice Minister David Ford had told IRA victims privately last week that there may be at best “one or two” prosecutions under HIU.

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn said that the News Letter report was not accurate; however, Mike Nesbitt said it was, adding that his MLA Sandra Overend had been present.

Mr Lunn said he was surprised to find out that the Alliance Party was the only party that had fully supported the Stormont House Agreement.

Mr Nesbitt expressed concern about the disparity in accountability it will require of the UK and Irish governments.

He said that victims should not be optimistic about the information they would get under the SHA, citing Martin McGuinness’s refusal to cooperate with the Saville Inquiry and the IRA’s deceptive statements to the Smithwick Inquiry.

Jim Allister raised the only spontaneous applause of the evening and did so twice; once in demanding that the Executive parties redefine the definition of victim to exclude terrorists and also in slamming the proposal to have Mr McGuinness hold a veto over the appointment of the director of the HIU.

Mr Nesbitt called for the appointment to be made by the Policing Board or the judicial appointments process.

Basil McCrea MLA of NI21 said the security forces “did the best we could” in fighting terrorists while John McCallister MLA questioned the value of spending £150m on HIU if it had little prospect of success in prosecutions.

One victim spurred applause when they said the HIU was a “sham”. “Put the £150m into the innocent victims sector please,” she said.

SDLP MLA Alex Attwood said he “shared the fears” of victims about the emerging bill and said they were trying to correct it.