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National security concerns should not obscure scrutiny of Northern Ireland's troubled past, says UN expert

The British Government should not use blanket national security concerns to obscure scrutiny, said a UN expert on truth-telling and justice for wrongdoing after conflict.

The credibility of Northern Ireland's institutions will continue to suffer while victims are asked to wait for redress of serious violations, said special rapporteur Pablo de Greiff.

The Stormont deal failed to address the legacy of unresolved murders and countless numbers of badly injured people requiring support. Sinn Fein blamed this on British Government failure to honour a previous agreement on full disclosure to meet the needs of victims.

Mr de Greiff said: "Although everyone must acknowledge the significance of national security concerns, it must also be acknowledged that particularly in the days we are living in, it is easy to use national security as a blanket term.

"This ends up obscuring practices which retrospectively it is often recognised were not especially efficient means of furthering security.

"In particular, national security, in accordance with both national and international obligations, can only be served within the limits of the law and allowing for adequate means of comprehensive redress in cases of breaches of obligations."

He said none of those involved in the conflict were neutral Troubles arbiters.

"This will also involve means for adjudicating issues concerning disclosure in a way that is credible to all."

Nationalists have pressed for more official information about state collusion with loyalists in killings.

Mr de Greiff called for equal rights for all in the judicial process and creating an overarching mechanism for connecting events of the past.

He said disclosure procedures will have to guarantee independence and impartiality and be seen to do so.

"Victims, some of whom have waited more than 40 years to see their rights violations redressed, are once again asked to wait longer. The credibility of institutions will continue to suffer."

The expert called on the government to staff judicial and police services adequately and warned failure to address the past had significant indirect costs.

Recommendations included creating a proper repository of records and archives, more psychological support and broader recognition of victims' rights.

A Northern Ireland Office spokeswoman said: "Although agreement on the establishment of new bodies to deal with the past was not possible this week as part of a wider agreement to secure Northern Ireland's devolved institutions, the Government will continue to work with Northern Ireland's political parties, Executive and victims groups on how we can move forward and achieve broad consensus for legislation.

"During the talks, it was never the position of the Government to take a blanket approach to national security. We are committed to giving full disclosure to the Historical Investigations Unit, once it is established, including information which, if it were disclosed generally, would damage national security.

"We are also committed to ensuring that the DPP and the courts and inspection bodies receive all such information so that prosecutions can be brought and justice can be done. Protective measures are needed in relation to public release of that information, if doing so would put our national security at risk.

"The UK has a clear obligation to ensure that people are kept safe and secure."

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