Belfast Telegraph

Victim anger at proposals for 'airtight' Troubles amnesties

By Joanne Sweeney

Amnesties for people who come forward with information about Troubles-related murders is still a major sticking point for victims, a conference has heard.

Survivors who attended the meeting gave a lukewarm reception to an expert view that any testimony needed to be "airtight" from legal action as that would deny the families justice.

The Ulster University conference looked at Government legalisation expected to be introduced next month on how the four main institutions recommended under the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) would be implemented.

A detailed report and model Bill, with recommendations on how to protect universal human rights, was delivered by human rights activists and academics at the conference. It sought to debunk some of confusion expressed by victims' campaigners on what institutions set up to deal with the past could and could not do.

These institutions were agreed along with a now-disputed deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein on welfare reform.

They were unveiled ahead of an expected six months of consultation before the implementation of the legislation, with a £150m budget set aside to fund the work.

Similar legislation is expected to be introduced by the Irish Government by Christmas.

However, concerns were expressed by victims and survivors at the effectiveness of two of the institutions proposed - the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) and the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR).

The other two proposed institutions are the Oral History Archive and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group.

The HIU will be expected to carry out a "serious, rigorous" investigation of unsolved murders or flawed investigations. But the ICIR will be bound not to disclose information to law enforcement or intelligence agencies, and this information will be inadmissible in criminal and civil proceedings.

It was envisaged that when the investigation by independent detectives at the HIU was complete, families could then seek answers via the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval.

Professor Kieran McEvoy, from Queen's University, told the conference that the implementation of the SHA called for "uncomfortable but necessary conversations" and that any link with the introduction of welfare reform delay would be unacceptable to victims.

He added that any testimony needed to be "airtight" from legal action for it to be worthwhile, and said it was his understanding that the legislation would be introduced irrespective of what happened at Stormont.

Brian Gormally, of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, told the conference that the inquest process to handle Troubles' death inquiries was "falling apart". He added that progress on inquests held back due to a delay in disclosure on documents from the PSNI was a "disgrace" that needed to be handled independently.

The conference was organised by a collective of experts from Amnesty International, the Committee on the Administration of Justice, the Institute of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice and the Transitional Justice Institute.

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