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Public should have say over Northern Ireland Troubles legacy proposals, says Victims' Commissioner Thompson

By Noel McAdam

Victims' Commissioner Judith Thompson has backed a public consultation on proposals for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles arising from the Stormont talks.

The victims' champion will also devise how the consultation is to be conducted, but told the Belfast Telegraph last night: "We are not at that stage yet."

Mrs Thompson said the consultation would enable victims and survivors to understand the proposed legislation, which dates back almost two and a half years to the Stormont House Agreement (SHA).

"There's a statutory role for the Commission to make sure victims and survivors are properly consulted and represented and that would always be a concern of my office and part of the job of the Commission," she said.

Mrs Thompson also made clear, however, she has not even seen a draft of the proposed legislation currently being debated by the five main Stormont parties and the British and Irish governments.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire said last year, well ahead of the events which led to the collapse of Stormont, that he wanted to move to "a public phase" to ask victims of the Troubles, their families and members of the public for their views.

But a public consultation never materialised and appeared at one stage to have been postponed indefinitely.

Dealing with the past became bogged down, with Sinn Fein and London deadlocked over how national security issues would be handled.

Under the SHA of December 2014, a new independent Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) was to be established to take forward investigations into outstanding deaths from the Troubles, completing its work within five years.

There were also plans for a new Independent Commission on Information Retrieval to enable victims and survivors to privately obtain information about Troubles-related deaths, as well as an Implementation and Reconciliation Group to oversee archives and information recovery.

Mrs Thompson said yesterday a consultation period on the details would be time-limited and the standard minimum for public consultations is 12 weeks.

"What's really important is that the victims and survivors have a really good opportunity to fully understand what is being proposed," she added.

"This is a fairly complicated set of proposals so victims and survivors must be given a chance to say what might be concerning for them and what would be of help."

Mrs Thompson also reiterated earlier comments following criticism of her attendance at the funeral of former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who along with former First Minister Peter Robinson appointed her to her post.

She said people had an "immediate, emotional, personal, deep connection to the most dreadful experiences of loss, of pain and harm".

But she added: "A lot of people are saying 'I'm angry, I'm hurt, my life was changed and damaged' are also saying 'we understand that despite our legitimate grievances we can embrace a different future'."

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