Belfast Telegraph

No hiding place over difficult issues, warns commissioner

By Noel McAdam

Victims commissioner Judith Thompson has warned the Government cannot hide behind national security in dealing with the legacy from the Troubles.

And she has called for a clear definition of "national security" in a bid to unlock the stalemate between the Government and Sinn Fein.

Writing exclusively for the Belfast Telegraph today, Mrs Thompson warned: "National Security cannot be a convenient rock under which the government can hide uncomfortable issues."

But addressing paramilitary groups she also added: "Neither can there be an excuse for anyone refusing to come forward to cooperate with the proposed new Historical Investigation Unit (HIU) or Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR)."

In an optimistic assessment, she also concluded agreement on dealing with the past "is very much on the cards" - while also stressing that negotiations after the May 5 Assembly election could be the last chance for a workable deal.

Speaking at a conference launching a major mid-term review on the progress of the 2009-2019 Victims and Survivors Strategy, she said the 'Fresh Start' deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein last November, which sidelined victims issues, had been a "crushing disappointment".

A year earlier, at Christmas 2014, the Stormont House Agreement contained a series of detailed plans including the new HIU and ICIR to act as agents of information retrieval for victims and survivors.

Then a row between Sinn Fein and the London government over disclosure mechanisms meant the proposals were not included in an implementation plan in the 'Fresh Start' document.

Following a recent round of talks with the Stormont parties, Mrs Thompson argued a clear definition of 'national security' would be the final key to breaking the deadlock on the implementation of the HIU.

She also welcomed recent proposals from the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan which included a five-year time-plan for dealing with controversial inquests, some of which have been delayed for decades.

She also added, however: "I am equally aware that what is on offer will not satisfy everyone ... there is something for everyone but not everything for everyone."

Northern Ireland has around 200,000 adults suffering from mental health problems arising from the Troubles with some 40,000 suffering from injuries involving an estimated 3,720 bereaved families.

Many victims and survivors from the so-called Troubles have only begun to seek help in more recent years and there have been estimates the Victims and Survivors Service will face a 10% increase in people coming forward every year.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph