Belfast Telegraph

Brokenshire vows to publish legacy plans as ombudsman says he lacks resources

By Suzanne Breen

The Secretary of State is to publish plans to deal with the legacy of the Troubles before the end of the year.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) last night said James Brokenshire would launch a public consultation on the proposals, even if there isn't a deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein to restore Stormont.

The disclosure came as a BBC Spotlight programme revealed that 130 families have received letters from the Police Ombudsman saying he can't proceed with legacy complaints due to a lack of resources.

Dr Michael Maguire said some inquiries could take up to 20 years to complete and expressed his disappointment that his office has been unable to provide victims' families with answers.

He told the programme it was "not acceptable" that he had to tell some families they now could face a two decade wait. And he warned that investigations could be hindered further if funding pressures on his office persisted.

Sinn Fein said the situation was "completely unacceptable" and condemned the Government for "blocking the implementation of the legacy bodies agreed at Stormont House".

Three years ago, the Stormont House Agreement set out a plan for dealing with the past, including the setting up of a Historical Investigations Unit to examine unsolved murders. The Government will provide £150m to fund the new bodies.

An NIO spokesman said Mr Brokenshire intended to publish proposals for consultation before the end of the year. The consultation period normally lasts 12 weeks, but the sensitive nature of the plans will likely mean it is extended.

The Secretary of State had initially said a broad political consensus was needed before publishing the proposals but, with no agreement in sight between the DUP and Sinn Fein, he will now press ahead. After the consultation period, he will move to introduce legislation in the Commons and "have the institutions up and running as soon as possible", the NIO spokesman said.

However, the Belfast Telegraph understands this could take until 2019. In his BBC interview, Dr Maguire explained the pressures his office was facing.

"I have had to be in the very unfortunate position of writing to 130 families this year to tell them that I can't give them a definitive date as to when we will finish their investigation into the death of their loved one," he said.

"My resources are likely to decrease further and that is going to put an even greater strain on our ability to undertake cases of this length."

Dr Maguire said the pretence that the current system was working had to end. "It's a deceit, and it's a deceit which I think causes difficulties for families," he said.

"We need a proper, coherent and properly-funded approach to dealing with the past. In the absence of that, we are going to continue to stumble on doing what we do across the criminal justice system, and, in some cases, not doing it particularly well."

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said: "Unfortunately, this is just the latest example of the ongoing efforts to cover up the British state's involvement in the conflict here and particularly their deep-seated collusion with loyalist death squads. This continuous refusal to take responsibility for its actions only adds to the pain and suffering of victims and is completely unacceptable."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said victims had been badly let down again.

"The British Government has a legal obligation to fund investigation into legacy cases. It should do so.

"The British Government found the means to release NI budget monies. It has no possible justification to not release legacy monies for court inquests and ombudsman investigations unless its motives are political."

Belfast Telegraph

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