Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Haass 'very close' on a plan for the past: Ford

The Haass proposals on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles are "very close" to what the Department of Justice requires, its minister David Ford has said.

The Alliance Party leader told the Assembly it is vital "on moral grounds" that the issues of the past are dealt with – but some people will not be able to achieve both justice and truth.

His assessment came as the leaders of the five main Stormont parties, including Mr Ford, held their latest meeting – the third – to discuss the fallout from their failure to agree the final Haass document early on New Year's Eve. The parties – DUP, Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance – are to attempt to meet again later in the week.

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have clashed over the way forward in the aftermath of the collapse of the talks chaired by the American diplomat Richard Haass and his assistant Professor Meghan O'Sullivan.

Mr McGuinness has insisted the parties should move ahead with implementing aspects of Haass – including on parades and flags – while the DUP leader has argued for more talks.

But asked in the Assembly for his assessment on the proposals for dealing with the past, Mr Ford said: "I believe that the proposals in the final document from Dr Haass are very close to what is required, and I am certainly committed to ensuring that the Department of Justice plays its part, both in the interests of ensuring that the system works properly and in the moral issues."

Earlier, questioned by Sinn Fein MLA Mickey Brady, he added: "Of course, we know that for some people it will not be possible to have both justice and truth.

"There is a vital necessity on moral grounds to deal with those issues of the past, meet the needs and concerns of victims, ensure that we are able to deal with that inclusively and enable the criminal justice system to operate for the needs of today."

Mr Ford also said that as minister he had not made any case to Westminster to fund new bodies arising from any agreement, but had done so as Alliance leader.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt warned of the danger of disappointing victims and survivors by raising expectations which Mr Ford cannot afford to deliver.

"I would warn against any statements which could raise hopes and expectations when there are clearly no concrete plans as to how the proposals fit in within current budgets and given the Secretary of State's repeated warning that the NIO does not have a budget to help fund any new legacy bodies," Mr Nesbitt said.

STORY SO FAR

Proposals that emerged during the Haass talks suggested the establishment of both the Historical Investigations Unit and the Independent Commissioner for Information Retrieval, allowing justice in some cases, but where that is not possible, information for victims' families.

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