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Government must speed up the process to deal with legacy of the Troubles, says Tory MP


Tory MP Simon Hoare

Tory MP Simon Hoare

Tory MP Simon Hoare

The Government has been urged to set out a timetable for legislation to deal with the legacy of the Troubles, as memories are fading and victims have waited long enough.

Conservative MP Simon Hoare made the call after the Government responded to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) interim report on legacy issues, published last October.

In the report, the NIAC criticised "unilateral and unhelpful" proposals from the Government last March, and hit out at the lack of consultation with victims.

One of the pledges of the New Decade, New Approach deal agreed in January 2020 was the implementation of legacy provisions outlined in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement (SHA) within 100 days. This would include the setting up of an independent investigations unit to investigate outstanding Troubles deaths.

But in March Secretary of State Brandon Lewis outlined the Government's new approach on legacy, including "significant changes" to SHA provisions, such as investigations only in cases where there is a "realistic prospect" of prosecutions being brought. All other cases would be permanently closed.

The NIAC said this raised "profound legal, ethical and human rights issues".

In response, the Government said it believes it is right to focus on information recovery for families and will "consider all options and work through all the concerns expressed".

The Government also said it wished to reaffirm its commitment to working with the Irish Government on legacy issues.

The Government agreed with the committee that it is "right to recognise the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland by decoupling Northern Ireland legacy issues from the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill".

The Bill was designed to provide protection for armed forces personnel and veterans from "vexatious prosecutions" relating to military operations outside the UK.

The Government said it will deliver on its commitments to NI veterans as part of a wider package addressing legacy issues.

"These are important, sensitive, and highly complex issues - which is why they remain largely unresolved despite more than 20 years of extensive public discourse and debate," a UK Government spokesperson said.

"Despite the real challenges this brings, the Government remains determined to make progress on legacy issues, and has always been clear that it will engage with the Irish Government, the Northern Ireland parties, and civic society, including victims groups, as part of this process."

NIAC chairman Simon Hoare said the committee was encouraged by the Government's "change of tone", compared to Mr Lewis' March statement, welcoming the commitment to consulting with all stakeholders.

Mr Hoare said he agreed with the Government that the issues are "complex and sensitive, and they become more so with the passage of time".

"That state of affairs should be a driver to reach a resolution at the earliest possible opportunity, before memories have faded to the extent that there is no prospect of closure for those affected," he said.

"We need to see a clear timetable for consultation and a timeframe in which we can expect the Government to bring forward legislation. Victims have already been waiting too long."

Belfast Telegraph