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History won't be rewritten on my watch, but people guilty of Troubles crimes must face justice: James Brokenshire

Exclusive: Secretary of State talks to the Belfast Telegraph in his first major in-depth interview since taking office

By Yvette Shapiro

Published 07/10/2016

Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire interviewed by the Belfast Telegraph’s Yvette Shapiro at Stormont House yesterday
Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire interviewed by the Belfast Telegraph’s Yvette Shapiro at Stormont House yesterday
Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire interviewed by the Belfast Telegraph’s Yvette Shapiro at Stormont House yesterday
Radical preacher Abu Qatada
A survivor of the London bombings

The Secretary of State has insisted that he will not be party to the rewriting of the past in Northern Ireland.

In his first major in-depth interview since taking up office in the summer, James Brokenshire told the Belfast Telegraph he would be a champion for the "incredible sacrifice and utter dedication" of the police and army during the Troubles.

But he also pledged to ensure that security force members suspected of collusion were pursued through the courts.

"I will not be a party to the rewriting of history when we know that the vast majority of people killed during the Troubles were killed by terrorists," Mr Brokenshire told this newspaper.

"But the rule of law means that if there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing, that should be pursued without fear or favour. It's that balanced approach that we rightly take.

"We'll pursue criminality wherever it may be, but the vast majority of those working with the RUC and armed forces did so with distinction and bravery to ensure that we have the stability that we enjoy today."


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Mr Brokenshire has spent the past few months meeting victims and survivors of the conflict, along with campaign groups and politicians, in an effort to break the deadlock on dealing with the legacy of the past.

"I've been very struck by the real pain, the raw emotion that continues to exist today and that sense of frustration that we've not seen progress," said the MP.

He added that he was optimistic about finding a way of implementing the Stormont House Agreement - still not in place after almost two years - which proposes a number of legacy bodies, including a new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU). But he appeared to play down victims' expectations.

"There's a profound sense that you have a generation starting to pass away and they are looking for answers," Mr Brokenshire said. "Those striving for the perfect? Well, if we can create something that is good, that's able to make some progress (maybe we can) give some answers.

"Whatever we achieve will not do everything for everybody. There are so many groups, so many aspirations. We have a chance to do some good, to give some of those answers. I'm determined to make progress for those families."

The British Government has drawn sharp criticism from some groups on the issue of disclosure of security force and intelligence files to the HIU and to victims' families.

"We're very clear that we would make full disclosure to HIU," said Mr Brokenshire.

"It's the onward public disclosure that I, as Secretary of State, have a duty under national security to protect life. It's not some way of trying to hide embarrassment. It's a genuine sense of trying to ensure the safety of people, that we don't see loss of life as a result of disclosures that might be made more publicly."

The Secretary of State revealed that he wanted to meet the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP. It follows recent claims by the UVF-linked party that loyalists were being excluded from the crucial round of talks to reach agreement on the new legacy institutions. He declared: "I stand ready to meet and talk to them (the PUP). I've been largely focused on meeting victims and survivors and community groups, but I know there are others I need to meet."

Loyalist sources have told the Belfast Telegraph that there have been a number of "background" discussions with officials from the Northern Ireland Office in recent months, but no formal talks regarding efforts to implement the Stormont House Agreement. Mr Brokenshire gave no timeline on a deal, but insisted that he could bring a fresh approach to resolving the legacy issues that have frustrated his predecessors at the Northern Ireland Office.

And he also referred to his experience as a Home Office minister when he dealt with the victims of the London bombings in July 2007. "On counter-terrorism, I remember some very powerful sessions we had with the 7/7 victims," he recalled. "That sense of duty that I felt very intently to do something for them.

"We've been progressing this carefully over a number of months. Whilst I want to make progress as quickly as we can, I know that if we rush this we may make a false step. I'm being careful and thoughtful to see that we make progress on this, and on legacy inquests."

The Secretary of State added that he would not be deterred by the difficulties of reaching agreement, and cited his experience in securing the deportation to Jordan in 2013 of the radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada.

"I was told it was impossible, but with sheer resolve, focus and determination we saw that man on a plane out of the country," Mr Brokenshire said.

"Politics is not about position, it's about the difference you can make to people. That's the thing that drives me."

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