In the Foreword to the legacy consultation, the Secretary of State indicates that in addressing the legacy of the past we must meet the need of victims and survivors, promote reconciliation, reflect a broad consensus and be balanced, fair and equitable and proportionate.
I am concerned that the proposals suggested will not promote reconciliation, do not reflect the view of the community and are not balanced, fair and proportionate. In particular the proposals are disproportionately directed at looking at the actions of the police and army, where there are extensive records. The terrorist’s did not keep records. Indeed those involved in terrorism have in the past either failed to disclose information or knowingly told falsehoods to protect their illegal organisation. If someone was prepare to murder, surely we must be sceptical of any information that might come from them. There is a real danger that the proposals will perpetuate division rather than contribute to reconciliation.
In the absence of any genuine apology and acceptance of the wrong that those engaged in or who supported acts of terrorism have done, we can expect that the proposed structures would be used to try and rewrite history. If this is allowed to happen, we will not have learnt from the past and we will risk encouraging terrorism returning in the future or indeed encourage terrorism in some other part of the world.
NI suffered from 30 years of terrorism. Why does terrorism not get mentioned in the consultation? In the early 1970’s there was mayhem and murder on a daily basis. Without setting the context and recognising the extreme conditions in which those trying to curtail terrorism had to operate in, we are endanger of setting up processes of judging their actions from our comfortable peacetime armchairs and with the new standards of today,
I agree that the current system for dealing with the past is not working. But changes must be balanced, fair and workable. It is surprising that any consultation on Legacy does not include the definition of a victim. There is great community concern that those who committed violence, continue to be included in the definition of a victim.
Only recently we have learned of how a relative of an innocent bomb victim had to leave a victims forum when he discovered that it was deemed acceptable for a bomber to be on it. These proposals do not meet the requirements of innocent victims as they have not addressed the definition of an victim which should be restricted to innocent victims.
Many innocent victims, as a result of their injuries, were unable to save for retirement. It is disappointing that pensions for the severely injured, innocent victims has not been included in the legacy consultation.
There should be no equivalence between the lawful forces of the State trying to protect the community and illegal terror gangs. Police and army personnel went on duty to protect life whilst terror gangs went out to take life away.
Any legacy proposals must be balanced. Terrorists have been given early release from prison. Some sixteen terrorists received Royal Prerogatives of Mercy or Royal Pardons for premeditated crime including murder between 1998-2002. In addition, over 200 people have been given so-called ‘letters of comfort’ by the Blair Government. These have already proven to be sufficient to either halt court action against those involved in terrorism or to prevent the arrest of a number of high profile IRA suspects.
Lack of Balance in the Legacy Proposals
90 per cent of deaths in the Troubles were due to terrorist action (60 per cent by republicans, 30 per cent by loyalists), and 10 per cent were due to the Police or Army. In addition to the death toll, 47,000 people were injured and there were 15,000 terrorist bombings.
In 1972 alone 476 people lost their lives. In that year the IRA killed 100 soldiers, wounded 500 more and carried out 1,300 bomb attacks. It is all too easy to judge the actions of the Police and Military at that time and place, and in those circumstances, from the comfort and safety of an armchair in 2018.
At that time the relatively small number of RUC officers were trying to investigate murders, attempted murders, multiple shootings and bombings, whilst at the same time trying to prevent future deaths. They often faced further attack as they tried to investigate. When the public gave evidence, they too were often were threatened by terrorists. Will this context be recognised?
Historical Investigation Unit
The proposed Historical Investigation Unit (HIU) and it’s terms of operation is unacceptable:
The HIU will be another separate police force. Why has the finance not been given to the PSNI whose officers are highly respected throughout the world and which contains many officers who were not involved in the terrorist incidents of the period.
The proposed criteria for the HIU is unacceptable as its investigations are imbalance by excluding most terrorist crimes:
The HIU will examine 1,700 fatalities out of a total of over 3,500 deaths and it will within this number re-examine every killing by British military personnel and members of law enforcement agencies. Yet, for some reason, it will not re-examine every killing where British Military personnel and members of law enforcement agencies were the victims.
There were over 47,000 victims of the troubles. 98% caused by terrorist activities including 15,000 bombings. Shamefully none of these, will be taken into account by the proposed HIU if they did not result in a fatality.
The HIU is to investigate solely Northern Ireland incidents. So those who were kidnapped, tortured and then taken across the Irish border to be murdered, will not get an investigation. Will terrorist incidents in GB be investigated?
The proposals will only addresses a relatively small number of victims. It only addresses some fatalities and will ignore 47,000 victims who were injured as a result of terrorist activity. Most terrorist incidents which created victims have been excluded.
There is also imbalance in terms of the information that is to be made available. The UK Government will be compelled to provide every scrap of information for investigation and only redact after investigation. However the Irish Government will be able to redact information prior to investigation.
There is also unfairness in the fact that those families who received a flawed HET report which was not an investigation, will not be entitled to a HIU investigation.
If there has been genuine remorse from individuals and terrorist organisations, oral history could play a positive role in healing. However, as Sinn Fein leaders continue to eulogise members and other republicans terrorists who murdered, Oral Histroy is likely to be used and abused to try and rewrite history. If this is the case it will perpetuate division rather than lead to reconciliation.
I am unconvinced that the ICIR will have any value. The South African Truth Commission had teeth as if there were omissions and inconsistences, those responsible could be held to account. We have already found in the Saville Enquiry that only evidence that those involved in terrorism want to give will be given. Terrorists would be able to tell about their heinous crimes but not face prosecution. Mis-information could also be given.
The IRG themes are dangerous as they will work on the basis of information available, which as outlined above will be focused on security forces rather that terrorists. This will concentrate disproportionately on state actions and will lead to themes based around collusion. Without informers, terrorism is unlikely to have been brought to an end. We are in danger of failing to acknowledge that to address terrorism, the police and army had to place agents. Often decisions will have been taken with limited time to consider and perhaps with incomplete information. Actions taken then will be judged by standards of today and when time pressures and lives are not at risk. By committing millions of pounds to investigative officers time to trace records it will be easy to find fault with many decisions taken and perhaps blame the police and army with the benefit of hindsight. The terrorists did not keep records. They will not face similar investigation and scrutiny.
Will the ethnic cleansing of Protestants living close to the border be examined?
I and my Ulster Unionist Party colleagues have consistently warned of the unacceptable imbalance in these legacy proposals agreed by the DUP and Sinn Fein as part of the so-called Stormont House Agreement. If implemented, they are likely to result in the rewriting of history, rather than hold the many terrorists who have yet to be prosecuted to account. For the sake of future generations, the blame for the murder and mayhem must remain with the terrorists. Those currently involved in terrorism and organised crime should not be encouraged to continue to inflict pain on the community.
It would be wasteful to spend millions of pounds on these imbalanced proposals which are more likely to encourage division than encourage reconciliation.
UUP MLA for East Antrim