Belfast Telegraph

Huge concerns remain on legacy issues says Foster as 17,000 give their views

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster
Ulster Unionist justice spokesman Doug Beattie
Sinn Fein legacy spokesperson Linda Dillon
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said serious concerns remain over finding a way forward on Northern Ireland's past.

She was speaking after the publication of responses to the Government's consultation on legacy issues.

The summary, released yesterday, found that a "clear majority" of those who responded felt a statute of limitations or amnesty for Troubles-related matters would be inappropriate.

Yesterday's publication is a summary of the 17,000-plus public responses to the consultation received between May and October last year.

While saying that the consultation should help develop a better way forward, Mrs Foster said "the IRA has no intention of ever telling the truth about the past".

"The DUP pressed consistently for the consultation document to be published so the people could have their say," she said.

"The definition of a victim is still a common thread which runs through many responses."

Mrs Foster said any suggestion that a bombmaker could be defined as a victim, in the same way as the person who lost limbs in the bomb, was "immoral".

She said a new UK definition of a victim would have a "transformative impact" on how we deal with the past.

"Justice must always remain open to victims of terrorism. Justice must also be seen to be done. No one who has done wrong should be able to stop looking over their shoulder," she added.

"The challenge is finding a way forward which ensures that history is not rewritten and those who took innocent life are held accountable rather than the reputation of those who stood against terrorism being inaccurately tarnished."

Mrs Foster referred to comments made by former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams in his graveside oration at the funeral of former IRA chief of staff Kevin McKenna last month.

She added: "When Gerry Adams told the funeral of Kevin McKenna that the part played by McKenna and others like him will never be known, it once again reinforces the view that the IRA has no intention of ever telling the truth about the past.

"While they demand the truth from soldiers and police officers, they hide from the truth about their dark and terrible past."

Ulster Unionist justice spokesman Doug Beattie warned Northern Ireland "must not end up with a process where those who shout the loudest get their way".

"We must be careful to do what is right, and deliver a balanced, fair, equitable and proportionate solution," he said.

"We are not surprised that there is a lot of agreement that the present system for dealing with the past isn't working, but that does not mean we should accept a replacement solution that is so structurally flawed."

Mechanisms for dealing with the past, including a new independent investigation unit and a truth recovery body, were agreed in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.

Despite yesterday's publication of the consultation summary, the Government has not indicated whether it will now move to establish the mechanisms.

It is understood officials will now consult with the Stormont parties to gauge their views on the way ahead.

Sinn Fein legacy spokesperson Linda Dillon said yesterday's publication demonstrates that "now is the time to deal with the past". She added: "We have rigorously opposed every attempt to introduce immunity for crimes committed by British soldiers in Ireland. We will continue to support the victims.

"There is also clear concern that national security should not be used or abused to prevent families accessing the truth.

"The British Government must urgently set out a time frame to bring forward legislation for the legacy structures. The time to engage with t he past is now."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said the responses show a "clear rejection" of a statute of limitation for crimes committed during the Troubles.

"This needs to be a springboard towards final agreement on a comprehensive set of arrangements to deal with the legacy of the past," said Dr Farry.

"The Stormont House Agreement is not perfect, no system is, but this is the only means to find a way to address the multiple demands within the context of a process of reconciliation."

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