Villiers signals ‘optimism’ on legacy issues deal

Theresa Villiers
Theresa Villiers

Agreement to resurrect stalled proposals to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s troubled past is “not a million miles” away, Theresa Villiers has told MPs.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said she approached the current impasse over new investigative and truth recovery mechanisms with a “degree of optimism”.

Her comments to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee came despite the failure to incorporate the legacy measures in last month’s Fresh Start political deal between Stormont’s leaders and the UK and Irish governments.

A wrangle between Ms Villiers and Sinn Fein over the extent of British government disclosure of official documents to bereaved families searching for the truth and justice prevented progress in that area.

The governments in London and Dublin have said they will reflect on how best to move forward on legacy issues, but no definitive roadmap has yet emerged.

Addressing members of the Westminster committee on Tuesday, Ms Villiers said more intensive engagement with victims groups would be required before deciding how to overcome the logjam.

“I look on this with a degree of optimism,” she said.

“These issues will continue to be very sensitive. There were a number of areas that were discussed during the talks process where it looked as if there was an emerging consensus.

“It was obviously a big disappointment that we couldn’t agree on all the points but I am determined to do all I can to get the implementation process for those institutions back on track.

“I think they are important, I think they would deliver better outcomes for victims and survivors.”

Ms Villiers added: “My main sentiment coming out of the talks process was that some more intensive engagement with victims representatives was probably going to be crucial to try and find a way forward.”

She said the mechanisms were “never going to be perfect” as compromise was needed to achieve agreement among the various political participants.

“I think we should strive to get enough consensus to get the legislation through and I think we are not a million miles from that,” she said.