Troubles legacy to be tackled with public consultation even without powersharing
The Government has vowed to press ahead with a public consultation on new mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles, with or without the restoration of Stormont powersharing.
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said while he would much prefer that progress on the draft proposals was accompanied by a deal to save devolution, he insisted he was under an obligation to act in the best interests of victims.
On Monday, victims from a cross-section of society urged Mr Brokenshire to take action during a face-to-face meeting in Co Antrim.
They want him to commence the long-awaited public consultation process on draft legislation as a matter of urgency.
An independent investigations unit, a truth recovery body and an oral history archive were among initiatives agreed by political leaders in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.
But subsequent political rows mean the mechanisms have still not been set up three years later.
Another political deal - the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement - failed to break the deadlock over thorny issues such as the Government's national security veto on sensitive files.
After the meeting in Templepatrick, Mr Brokenshire said he had heard the victims' message "loud and clear".
"Clearly I feel under an obligation to move forward to see that victims and survivors are able to get that sense of progress that they have been asking for such a long time," he said.
"It is a very long time since Stormont House itself was concluded."
He added: "It has taken too long, we can't wait much longer and I am intent to see that we do make progress.
"The focus is very firmly on seeing the re-establishment of an executive, but if that proves intractable, if that does not prove possible then obviously I think the victims have waited for a very long time and we do need to move this forward."
Mr Brokenshire continued: "I judge that the most constructive way to do that is off the back of an executive being formed, but if that does not prove possible we do need to get on with this and I heard that message loud and clear from the victims group today."
The secretary of state said a consultation was a way of building momentum towards implementing the Stormont House proposals.
Victims commissioner Judith Thompson and members of the Victims and Survivors Forum - a body representing people impacted by the Troubles - met with Mr Brokenshire to demand that the public is consulted as soon as possible.
Afterwards, victims welcomed elements of what Mr Brokenshire had to say, but said he could have gone further - including giving a firm date for starting a consultation.
Robert McClenaghan's grandfather Philip Garry was killed in the UVF bombing of McGurk's Bar in Belfast in 1971.
"My father has now reached the ripe old age of 87 so it's important for us that we try to get some acknowledgement and some truth before he passes on," he said.
Hazel Deeney's husband Trevor was murdered by the INLA in 1998. He was buried on the day the Good Friday Agreement was signed.
She said Mr Brokenshire was compassionate and understanding but was hampered by the lack of a Stormont executive.
"I do believe he could have went further and I do think the executive getting up and running plays a crucial part in how victims' (needs) moving forward are going to be met," she said.
Ms Thompson said victims were weary, frustrated and disillusioned at the lack of progress on the Stormont House mechanisms.
She added: "It undermines people's trust and respect for the way that governments and the law are dealing with them."