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Brandon Lewis 'is scapegoating us for his failings on legacy,' says Wave's Alan McBride

Victims' group seeking apology after being blamed for talks delay

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Political row: Secretary of State Brandon Lewis

Political row: Secretary of State Brandon Lewis

Political row: Secretary of State Brandon Lewis

The Secretary of State has been urged to apologise after blaming a Troubles victims' group for stalling talks on legacy issues.

Brandon Lewis claimed in the House of Commons that the delay was due to the group asking for a "pause" in engagement.

Asked if he would meet representatives of the Wave Trauma Centre, Mr Lewis told MPs: "It was actually the Wave group back in March who asked us to pause the engagement as they were focused, and their members were focused, on Covid, which I think was a reasonable position."

But the organisation denied it made such a request, and accused the Secretary of State of scapegoating it for his inactivity in progressing legacy matters.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP said Mr Lewis needed to say sorry.

"It is incredibly low for a senior British Cabinet minister to seek to blame victims for his own failings," he said.

"The very least he can do is apologise for the immense hurt that he has caused and explain what led to this statement."

Wave Trauma Centre said it had made it clear that setting out proposals which would see the majority of legacy cases permanently closed on March 19, just as the Covid lockdown started, was appalling, but it had not asked for a pause in communications.

"I was at that meeting in March," Wave coordinator Alan McBride said.

"What we had asked him to do was to pause the legislation. It is inaccurate in the extreme to say we told him to pause communication.

"We actually wrote to him shortly after that meeting to pick up on the communication. We got a response saying engagement would be ongoing. We've heard nothing since then.

"What he said was wrong. We need to set the record straight."

Another spokesman for the group said it was promised "intensive engagement" that never materialised.

"It is frankly pathetic that the Secretary of State should seek to scapegoat Wave, and by extension victims and survivors, for nearly nine months of his own inaction," he said.

Last night a response from the Northern Ireland Office outlined its position, but did not offer an apology.

"The Government wants to engage with victims and others from across the community in Northern Ireland to help make progress on legacy issues. While engagement at official level took place during the summer, engaging effectively and sensitively has been made more difficult by the pandemic," it said.

"The Government is committed to delivering legislation to address legacy issues in a way which focuses on reconciliation, delivers for victims from all communities, and ends the cycle of investigations which has failed victims and veterans alike. We want to move forward as quickly as we can, and we remain committed to working with all parts of the community in Northern Ireland as part of this process."

Mr Lewis had been challenged on the delay by shadow secretary of state Louise Haigh, who also called on him to apologise for his comments.

"His refusal to engage directly with victims' groups is badly damaging trust and critically undermining the chances of designing a comprehensive solution to deal with the legacy of the past," she said.

"This has now been seriously compounded by misleading claims that Wave and other victims' groups themselves asked to pause engagement during the Covid crisis."

Belfast Telegraph


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