Belfast Telegraph

Judges would rule on legacy secrecy under new plans to break Stormont impasse

By David Dawson

Proposals to help break the Stormont talks logjam on legacy issues have been made public by university researchers.

The plans, detailed in a document launched in Belfast yesterday, addresses the sticking point of national security considerations blocking disclosures. Under the blueprint, decisions on whether or not to redact information would be made by an independent judge or judges.

Read More: Legacy issues impasse can be overcome with legal imagination

The research team behind the plan is led by Professor Kieran McEvoy, from the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice and the School of Law at Queen's University. It also includes academics from Ulster University and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The December 2014 Stormont House Agreement (SHA) mapped out a way forward on dealing with the past, covering the creation of structures, including a new historical investigations unit, to probe Troubles killings.

The SHA also envisaged a separate independent commission on information retrieval to allow victims' families to privately receive details of how their loved ones died.

A oral history archive was also proposed, along with the creation of an implementation and reconciliation group. But the new structures have stalled amid disagreement on the national security issue, principally between Sinn Fein and the British Government.

Under the model launched yesterday, decisions on potential redactions would be taken against specified legal criteria balancing the State's legitimate national security concern with families' right to truth.

The proposed criteria would rule out the redaction of information relating to illegal activities or now obsolete anti-terror techniques.

The decisions should be made following a hearing where the views of all of relevant actors are legally represented.

Professor McEvoy said: "We were deeply disappointed when the Fresh Start negotiations, which concluded in November 2015, failed to reach consensus on the implementation of the SHA past-related mechanisms.

"However, together with a number of NGOs which work very closely with families directly affected by the conflict, we resolved to continue to try and help overcome the outstanding obstacles.

"Given the political focus on questions relating to the proposed redaction of sensitive information from reports going to affected families on the grounds of national security, we concentrated our energies on these and related matters.

"The issue of redacting sensitive information in the context of dealing with the past is complex and sensitive.

"However, with political will and some legal imagination, it can be resolved and we hope that our model may assist that process."

The stalemate on legacy issues has also held up funding for inquests on specific Troubles-era killings.

Meanwhile, unionists and some Tory MPs have accused Sinn Fein of wanting to place excessive focus on past actions by security forces, rather than paramilitaries.

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