Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

We need new ways to deal with Troubles cases - there is too much emphasis on State involvement, says Villiers

By Rebecca Black

Published 11/02/2016

Current structures for dealing with the past focus "disproportionately" on cases where the State is alleged to have been involved, the Secretary of State will say today.

Theresa Villiers is to give a key speech on dealing with the past this morning at the Ulster University in Belfast.

She is expected to pledge support for finally setting up new structures proposed in the Stormont House Agreement to deal with the legacy of the Troubles because current structures are "not working as they should".

Those legacy bodies include a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) to probe outstanding Troubles-related deaths.

Since the dissolution of the Historical Enquiries Team last year, the burden of dealing with the past has fallen on the PSNI, Police Ombudsman and Coroner's Office.

Ms Villiers will tell the event, hosted by the School of Criminology, Politics and Social policy, that issues from Northern Ireland's troubled past have a continuing capacity to disrupt hard-won political progress.

"There is a pressing need to make progress, because it is clear that the current structures for dealing with legacy cases are not working as they should," she will say. "They are not working for victims and survivors, they currently focus disproportionately on cases where the State was involved or alleged to be involved, leaving families in other cases feeling overlooked and disregarded.

"And the legal aid bill continues to grow, diverting resources which could be used for policing the present rather than the past."

Ms Villiers will also address angry claims that the Government is not disclosing certain documents. "The PSNI holds over nine million documents relating to the Troubles, and they and the MoD have between them disclosed thousands of documents through inquests and other legal processes," she will say.

"It's a simple fact that the current system was never designed to cope with a large number of highly complex and sometimes linked cases involving very sensitive information.

"We agreed that the Government and its agencies would give full disclosure of all relevant documents to the HIU without any redactions."

Ms Villiers will also say the Government is prepared to seriously consider releasing Stormont House Agreement legacy funding to support the backlogged inquest system.

However, she will add that even if the problems with inquests are tackled, additional mechanisms are needed.

"We are committed to establishing the legacy bodies set out in the Stormont House Agreement: the HIU, the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group, along with the Oral History Archive and the historical timeline project," Ms Villiers will tell the event.

"They also come with an additional £150m of funding from the UK Government, just one part of the financial packages supporting the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements which give the Executive around £2.5bn in extra spending power to reflect the unique circumstances faced by Northern Ireland."

Ms Villiers is set to re-affirm the Government's determination to work with victims' groups, the Stormont parties and the Irish government on finding a way forward.

She will flesh out details about the HIU and rule out any future amnesties.

"We have listened very carefully to those who fear that any new bodies will have a disproportionate focus on the State and the security forces, and others who fear they might not be independent enough," she will say.

"So we would write into legislation in the clearest terms the requirement that these bodies are under an obligation to carry out their functions in ways that are fair, equitable, balanced, proportionate and transparent.

"We have sought to remove the politics from sensitive appointments; for example the director of the HIU.

"And, crucially, any legislation we bring forward will make absolutely clear that there will be no amnesties or immunity from prosecution. This Government believes in the rule of law, and we will not countenance amnesties."

Belfast Telegraph

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph