Belfast Telegraph

'Last chance to reach agreement on Troubles legacy issues'

Stormont talks could be last chance to get meaningful agreement on legacy issues over the Troubles, Northern Ireland's victims' commissioner said.

A clear definition of national security would be the final key to breaking the deadlock on the implementation of the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), according to Judith Thompson.

She said victims and survivors were reeling from the crushing disappointment of the Fresh Start agreement which effectively pulled the rug out from under their "rightful expectations".

"Gut-wrenchingly disappointing as it was, I decided to look again at what had been agreed and why we had been led to believe, right up to the last minute, that there was a solution for those who had suffered so much over the last 40 years," she said.

"What I found was that there had been real progress, substance and consensus in what had been discussed. The problem was the final hurdle of agreement on what constituted national security in preventing full disclosure to families."

At a conference today launching a major mid-term review on the progress of the 2009-2019 Victims and Survivors Strategy, the commissioner said the current process could be the last chance to get meaningful agreement on the outstanding legacy issues.

"A workable deal is still very much on the cards and while I accept it will have to wait until after the Assembly elections, I am very clear that if we don't get it now I don't know when we will get any closer to a point where all the pieces are in place."

She said national security could not be a convenient rock under which the government can hide uncomfortable issues.

"Neither can there be an excuse for anyone refusing to come forward to cooperate with the proposed new Historical Investigations Unit or Independent Commission for Information Retrieval.

"Doing nothing is not an option. Legacy issues will not go away and for that reason I welcome the recent proposals from the Lord Chief Justice on methods of progressing legacy Inquests. This will provide a useful template for all future historical investigations.

"I am equally aware that what is on offer will not satisfy everyone but I am content that a solution is possible and there is something for everyone but not everything for everyone.

"I therefore remain determined to see the Stormont House Agreement being implemented in full and with the support of a newly replenished Victims Forum, put this right at the heart of the new Assembly's Programme for Government."

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