Belfast Telegraph

NIO ‘has no new ideas for dealing with past’

By Noel McAdam

The Government has been accused of having “ no new ideas” on dealing with the controversial legacy of the Troubles a full year after initiating talks on the past.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has admitted tackling victims’ issues, which has been deadlocked for years, remains an “enormous challenge”.

A year ago this month her predecessor Owen Paterson kick-started a series of discussions with Northern Ireland’s main political parties, which once again failed to produce any new proposals.

A Northern Ireland Office spokesman said there are many different views on the steps that should be taken to advance the issue — four years after the Eames/Bradley consultative group completed its work.

The statement followed the charge that the NIO has nothing new to offer on how to resolve the impasse.

The criticism came from Ulster Unionist leader and former Victims Commissioner Mike Nesbitt, who branded the Government’s present approach as disjointed.

Mr Nesbitt, who chairs the Stormont committee which monitors Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness’ office, said: “You have got public inquiries which are only looking at alleged wrongdoing by the State or its agents.

“Then there is the Police Ombudsman, which by definition is about alleged wrong-doing by police, and now this new wave of coroners’ courts which tend to have a focus on contested killings involving the security services.

“So it is not complete. It is four separate, disjointed processes but which all tend to put a disproportionate focus on the security forces rather than terrorists.

“And there are no new ideas coming out on dealing with the past from the NIO.”

An NIO statement said: “The Secretary of State has spoken to a number of people on this issue and it is clear that there are many different views and interpretations of what happened and what steps need to be taken to bring about some kind of resolution.

“Finding a consensus around these is an enormous challenge.”

Responsibility for decisions on dealing with the past is not a devolved matter but successive Secretaries of State have pointed out no progress is likely without a consensus among parties.

When the Assembly urged Mr Paterson to convene round-table talks between the parties, he instead opted for individual one-to-one meetings with parties.

Naomi Long, deputy leader of the Alliance Party, which tabled an Assembly motion on the issue, said:“After the Alliance motion in the Assembly in October 2011 calling for all-party talks to try to find agreement on how to deal with legacy issues, which was passed unanimously, Mr Paterson refused to do so and instead held a series of meetings with party leaders.

“I hope that the new Secretary of State will be willing to revisit the issue.”

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