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New Troubles commission won't name murderers

By Brian Rowan and Deborah McAleese

Published 18/08/2015

A new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) will be established, meaning no Troubles amnesty, and that investigations will continue into conflict-period killings
A new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) will be established, meaning no Troubles amnesty, and that investigations will continue into conflict-period killings

A new commission tasked with gathering information on Troubles murders will not name and shame those who carried out the killings.

The Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR) is set to be established as part of the Stormont House Agreement.

The commission is part of the latest political attempt to deal with Northern Ireland's troubled past. But the absence of any mechanism to unmask those behind some of the most infamous murders is likely to enrage victims.

A document on the role of the Commission - marked 'Official-Sensitive' and obtained by this newspaper - sets out the "shared understanding" of the UK and Irish Governments.

It was given to the Executive parties in June.

In a detailed paragraph, the document states: "The ICIR will be under a fundamental duty to protect life in the exercise of its functions.

"In light of this duty and in recognition that the ICIR will not test information to an evidential standard, ICIR reports will not name alleged perpetrators or disclose the identities of people who provide information.

"To reinforce the confidentiality of ICIR information, the ICIR will be given the immunities and privileges of an international body.

"Moreover, the raw information and operating files that it holds should be destroyed when it ceases to operate.

"This will not include its official outputs, such as reports to families and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group.

"These measures are intended to encourage engagement with the ICIR by all contributors," the documents reads.

Ann Travers, whose sister was murdered by the IRA, said victims would be left feeling let down by the ICIR.

She told the Belfast Telegraph: "If we are not going to be told who murdered our loved ones then what is the point in it? I want to know who it was who planned the attempted murder of my father and murder of my sister and who carried it out.

"When I first heard of plans for a 'truth commission' I was really hopeful that finally there was something that could help bring some closure. Many other victims will have felt the same. But this commission will not provide the answers that we really need and want. There is no other way that I will ever find out who murdered Mary."

The Commission on information-retrieval and that Implementation and Reconciliation Group were among key proposals in the Stormont House Agreement.

A new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) will also be established, meaning no Troubles amnesty and that investigations will continue into conflict-period killings.

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton has made clear his intention to give this new investigations unit the millions of documents currently held by the PSNI.

But Mr Hamilton and previous chief constables have also made clear that "judicial closure is increasingly unlikely in the majority of cases".

"Memories have faded, witnesses and suspects may have died," Mr Hamilton said in a speech to the British/Irish Association at Oxford in September last year. The hurt, however, will not have faded and many families still have questions they want answered," he added.

This is why there is now such an emphasis on what is called information-retrieval or truth-recovery.

And it is why the Commission will be part of the new legacy mechanisms.

The latest thinking of the two governments sets out how the ICIR will work. But the document obtained by the Belfast Telegraph - extracts of which appear on these pages - adds in finer detail, including the expertise that will be needed among the five commissioners.

"To ensure a breadth of relevant experience and the rigour of ICIR reports, it will be important to ensure that, collectively, the commissioners have experience of: working with victims and survivors' groups in Northern Ireland; legal/judicial proceedings and policing and security matters."

The Stormont House Agreement set out how the Commission would be appointed.

An independent chairperson would be appointed by the UK and Irish Governments in consultation with OFMDFM, with two nominees appointed by the First and deputy First Minister and one each appointed by the UK Government and the Irish Government.

The Commission will not have investigative powers, or powers to compel witnesses.

And information provided to the ICIR will not be admissible in civil or criminal proceedings.

The document setting out that "shared understanding" of the UK and Irish Governments reads: "ICIR engagement will be family-led. It may explore the circumstances of a particular case where approached by a close family member with questions about the death of their next of kin.

"We anticipate that commissioners will have discretion over whether to accept requests from more distant relatives. It will only pro-actively seek information on particular deaths at the behest of a family member, but should remain open to unsolicited testimony and hold this information securely in case the relevant family subsequently engage with the ICIR.

"With the permission of the family, the ICIR will publicise cases on which it is seeking information."

The document is not the last word on the Commission but, at this stage, it provides an indication of thinking on both what is possible and not possible.

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