If the British Government presses ahead with legislation on ‘Dealing with the Legacy of the Past’ while the current health situation persists and indeed, grows even more serious it would nothing short of immoral.
The timing of the Northern Ireland Office announcement on legacy was clearly decided with veterans interests at Westminster front and centre rather than those of victims and survivors in Northern Ireland.
The claim that it focuses on ‘reconciliation’ and ‘delivers for victims’ rings hollow.
To drop this announcement into the middle of this unprecedented Coronavirus crisis facing us all, is nothing short of shameful.
Many victims and survivors are elderly, living alone and struggling to come to terms with the horrifying implications of the pandemic.
Victims and survivor’s groups like WAVE were not given even cursory notice that something was coming that would enable some support mechanisms to be put in place for those who are understandably extremely upset by the content of the statement by the NIO on legacy.
Details on the substance of what is proposed are yet to be made public but what we have seen so far make it clear that there will be a unilateral departure from the structures set out in the Stormont House Agreement.
A desk top speedy review of outstanding cases to see if there is ‘new and compelling evidence’ which would lead to a full police investigation which could move to prosecution ‘where there a realistic prospect of success’.
We have had such previous reviews and enquiries that have not had unfettered access to records and therefore such prior speedy reviews have not been article 2 ECHR compliant,
How is this different?
Reports would be compiled for families containing whatever information is available and cleared for release within national security constraints.
If that sounds familiar it should.
We are back to the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) of 2005 which operated until it was arbitrarily wound up by the then Chief Constable now Sir George Hamilton in 2013.
Seven wasted years.
It is essential that any organisation or body set up to address these matters has the access to all information, as any review is only as good and thorough as the information it has access to.
If there is no rigorous investigation to the highest policing standards how can ‘compelling new evidence’ be uncovered’?
But perhaps that’s the point.
It has been estimated that 90% of cases will not proceed beyond the review and will be closed forever.
The source of many victims and survivors continuing pain is their sense that their loved one’s murder was not adequately investigated in the first place.
It has yet to be explained how this proposed scheme will address that.
And in the absence of a proper investigation where will information for victims and survivors emerge from?
As things stand this falls far short of what is needed to address the legacy of the past and the notion that it will move Northern Ireland closer to genuine reconciliation is fanciful.
WAVE will put our concerns in writing to the Secretary of State.
We are calling on Brandon Lewis MP to live up to the claim that the Government wants to deliver for victims by holding off legislation and not pushing it through under the cover of Covid-19.