Belfast Telegraph

New conflict deaths commission call

A former police ombudsman for Northern Ireland has called for a new investigation commission to be established to examine conflict deaths.

Collusion between members of the security forces and paramilitaries, intelligence handling failures and other problems would be revealed by a body funded by the UK, Irish and US governments and aimed at reinforcing the fragile peace, Baroness Nuala O'Loan said.

Police would stop investigating any case involving Troubles-related deaths before 2006 under the peer's proposal.

She warned that often peace agreements broke down and asked whether direct rule from Westminster may be re-introduced to take responsibility for hard decisions paralysing the "sectarian" political parties at Stormont.

She said: "The challenge for Northern Ireland is to find a way to deal with the past so as to enable the present and the future.

"Any solution must be fully compliant with the rule of law and all national and international obligations.

"Only then can we build a future for our children and their children."

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has said the political process is in serious difficulty.

He claimed a negative political axis was trying to undermine the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement which largely ended violence.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson called for a fresh round of political negotiations with government involvement, on the scale of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement - which led to the DUP agreeing to share power with Sinn Fein.

Members of the power-sharing government at Stormont have been at loggerheads over issues like dealing with the legacy of the conflict, controversial flags and marches as well as welfare reform.

Baroness O'Loan said without truth and reconciliation distrust will continue to undermine the fragile peace.

During a speech at the Kennedy Summer School in Co Wexford in the Republic of Ireland she proposed an investigation commission be established to combine the roles of several existing bodies.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has said £88 million budget cuts could force it to prioritise keeping people safe now over historic inquiries. Baroness O'Loan proposed the police stop probing Troubles-related killings before 2006 in favour of a new commission.

She said: "We cannot afford to allow confidence in policing to be reduced at a time when Northern Ireland is still struggling with the impact of paramilitarism, whilst simultaneously engaging in the battle against organised crime such as people trafficking, money laundering and drugs."

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) of independent detectives which is probing more than 3,000 deaths would cease to exist, along with the related investigations of the Police Ombudsman who examines complaints about police conduct, if an investigation commission was introduced, the member of the House of Lords added.

The commission would be totally transparent and accountable to Parliament or the Stormont assembly for cases which happened post-devolution.

Similar proposals for a legacy commission were not acted on by the previous Labour government.

Baroness O'Loan said most peace agreements across the world broke down within 15 years. It is 16 years since the Good Friday accord.

She added serious discussions at high levels of politics were about whether the devolved assembly can survive or whether the two largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, will collapse it.

"Are our politicians moving towards a period of direct rule, during which hard decisions will be made by British direct rule ministers so that the major parties can then return to government having avoided responsibility at the ballot box for those same hard decisions?

"I think we need help. I think it is time for the British and Irish governments to begin to play their part again.

"Our problems are their problems and their responsibilities. Devolution can achieve so much but our politicians do not seem capable of making things work in Northern Ireland."

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