Progress on Troubles legacy hailed
Politicians in Northern Ireland are making significant progress on finding a comprehensive way to deal with the legacy of the Troubles, Stormont's Justice Minister has said.
David Ford struck an optimistic note that a way to address sensitive issues around the past could emerge from the ongoing cross party talks process in Belfast.
The minister, who is also leader of the Alliance party, made the assessment during Assembly Question Time as elsewhere on the Stormont estate negotiations between the five Executive parties continued to intensify ahead of a potential conclusion at the end of the week.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny will lead the negotiations from Thursday in a bid to get a deal over the line.
As well as legacy issues, the parties are trying to find resolution to a range of other disputes creating instability in the power-sharing administration.
Long-standing wrangles over flags and parades, as well as budgetary problems, in particular stalled welfare reform policies, are all on the agenda.
Some progress on the issue of the past was made in last year's ill-fated talks chaired by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass but ultimately politicians stopped short of agreement.
The Haass proposals envisaged a new investigatory body for Troubles killings running alongside another mechanism aimed at truth recovery about crimes where prosecutions are unlikely.
Addressing MLAs in Parliament Buildings, Mr Ford said: "I certainly believe there are very significant issues relating to legacy which were not dealt with fully when Richard Haass convened the talks which it now appears are being dealt with in a more comprehensive and joined up way in the talks which we expect to see led later in the week by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach."
The issue of the past is arguably still the most emotive facing post-conflict Northern Ireland.
With more than 3,000 killed during the Troubles and the majority of murders still unsolved, countless bereaved continue to campaign for both truth and justice. Meanwhile, thousands injured in the violence still suffer the physical consequences.
An agreed mechanism to address the legacy of the conflict has always proved elusive, with the police, police ombudsman and coroner's court having to shoulder the responsibilities for probing the past on an essentially ad hoc basis.
Mr Ford said: "As Minister of Justice I see every day the impact the legacy of the past has on the operation of the justice system today."
During Question Time Sinn Fein's Maeve McLaughlin said the UK Government had to provide the funds to resource any new legacy arrangements.