Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Troubles legacy requires new approach, claims ex-Police Ombudsman

Michael Maguire
Michael Maguire

By Mark McCormick

How Northern Ireland deals with its troubled past "is not going to go away", a former Police Ombudsman has said.

Michael Maguire, who held the role for seven years, also said at times his job felt like "trench warfare".

He said he feels his former office, and also the PSNI, should be dealing with the present rather than the past, as he expressed his desire to hand over historic cases to a separate body.

"The way we in Northern Ireland are dealing with the past is broken," he told the Irish Times.

"The past is not going to go away. There needs to be a better way on how to deal with it. I would have a serious concern: there are second and third generations families now asking, say, what happened to their father or grandfather. That will continue, so we need a different way of dealing with it.

"Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good. It will never be perfect but it will be better than what we have. That means a better funded and more comprehensive approach and a more consistent approach across the board to dealing with the past."

Mr Maguire retired from his role as the independent investigator of complaints against the PSNI last summer.

He was replaced by Marie Anderson, the former Northern Ireland Ombudsman who dealt with complaints about public services, local government standards and judicial appointments.

The former Police Ombudsman said he had an overall staff of 120 investigating 2,500-3,000 cases each year and an annual budget of £9m. Between 23-28% of those complaints against police were upheld.

He had 40 staff investigating 170 historic cases in 2012 but that had reduced to fewer than 30 staff dealing with 430 historic cases on an annual budget of £2m before his retirement.

"That means that families have to wait much longer for results," Mr Maguire said. "That can't be right.

"There needs to be a better way of doing it."

He also challenged the allegation that the RUC was rotten to the core.

"Some people concoct that narrative, but I don't agree with it," he said.

"Not everything the RUC did was right, and there were things not even RUC officers would stand over. Clearly that is the case. That does not mean that everybody is tarred with the same brush; it clearly doesn't."

Asked if he enjoyed his seven years in the job, Mr Maguire said he wasn't "sure if 'enjoy' was the right word".

"It is a job the like of which I have never done before and the like of which I will probably never do again. It carried its challenges. I think it has been rewarding as a job, and that is probably the better answer. It has been rewarding."

When asked if he had any advice for his successor, Mr Maguire said Ms Anderson must "do the right thing, however difficult that is".

"There are occasions when you have to be critical of the police, and there are occasions when you have to say to the families that the narrative they accepted down the generations is simply not true. Anchor yourself in the evidence," he added.

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