Independent probe on Troubles deaths expected to start next year, says official
An independent investigation into Troubles killings in Northern Ireland is expected to go ahead next year, a senior official claimed.
A unit dedicated to probing almost 1,000 unsolved "cold cases" from the 30-year conflict and bringing "closure" to victims is due to be established under the stalled pre-Christmas accord between five local parties and the British and Irish governments.
But there is political impasse at Stormont, and the Conservative manifesto before the last election said there would be no side deals, that the agreement was a package and if one part fell then all of it unravelled.
However, the Justice Department's Brian Grzymek said it was his expectation from conversations with the Government that the independent Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) would be proceeded with.
He added: "The Government itself will be bringing the (Stormont House Agreement) Bill through the Parliament and the Government's perception, as I understand it, is that there has been a great deal of work put into this and it does discharge one responsibility of Government." The investigations would help address the Government's European human rights responsibilities to protect the right to life and hold a proper investigation into killings.
A team of 200 is due to be established by autumn next year, barring political intervention, and will have full police powers to investigate offences, the civil servant said.
However, the evidence may not be enough to secure prosecutions in many cases and the probe could take more than the envisaged five years to complete, the Stormont civil servant charged with establishing the new unit said.
Mr Grzymek said he hoped victims could achieve closure, but warned against expectations of large numbers of convictions.
Much of the DNA evidence from years of violence and turmoil may have been contaminated, sometimes officers attended two murders a day or just put evidence together in a drawer rather than packaging it separately, he added. Matters which could be transferred to the HIU include the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings of 13 civil rights protesters by soldiers.
The HIU was conceived in the pre-Christmas political agreement, now stalled by political wrangling over welfare changes.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said: "The Stormont House Agreement remains the best hope for building a brighter, more secure future for Northern Ireland. But for that to happen, the Agreement needs to be implemented in full."
Sinn Fein MLA Jennifer McCann said many victims and families had been waiting for over four decades for the truth:
"They should not be prevented from achieving truth and closure because of failure to reach agreement on other issues."