Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Theresa Villiers' 'on the runs' speech deepens political impasse: she is now part of the problem

'Theresa Villiers set out a British and unionist view that there is a single narrative of the past'
'Theresa Villiers set out a British and unionist view that there is a single narrative of the past'

Theresa Villiers’ speech on March 7 announced much more than the British Government’s decision to end the 'on the run' administrative scheme.

She set out a British and unionist view that there is a single narrative of the past; showing deliberate disregard for the suffering and injustice inflicted upon republicans and nationalists.

She also said the rule of law must apply, and opposed immunity, exemption or amnesty from prosecution whilst pointedly ignoring the immunity and impunity for the actions of British State forces and agents during the conflict here.

Britain was not a bystander then and now has a central role to help resolve the past on behalf of all our people.

To date the British have failed to unambiguously support the Haass compromises.

Villiers’ speech has clarified their real position.

By setting out the primacy of a single narrative, and rejecting the use of immunity as one instrument to assist in dealing with the past, the British Government has come out against the Haass compromises.

That is a very retrograde political position. But the ramifications of her remarks extend even further.

The OTR administrative scheme was not a side deal. Resolving this issue was agreed with the two governments in the context of the Weston Park Agreement and as an element of our conflict resolution process.

Theresa Villiers knows that.

Her speech indicates this government has now stepped away from Weston Park. Such a decision poses huge questions about the Conservative government’s commitment to all the other Agreements over the last fifteen years.

And, that is a very serious political development.

Sinn Féin has said repeatedly that while this British Government is strategically disengaged from the peace process, it has been very engaged making negative political interventions.

Everything changes however when all that suggests an emergent British Government strategy to derogate from the terms of binding agreements to suit an exclusively Conservative and unionist agenda.

That should cause serious concern for everyone committed to the peace process, and in particular the Irish Government.

Conflict resolution is a process of change and compromise, based upon good faith and commitment to implement agreements.

Those who wrote Theresa Villiers’ speech sent out a message that such principles no longer apply.

This speech has significantly deepened the ongoing political impasse. Theresa Villiers and those overseeing this British Government’s Irish policy have now become part of the problem.

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