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British Government launches legacy consultation to deal with Northern Ireland's past

By Mark Edwards

The British Government has launched a consultation into dealing with Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

A draft bill to establish legacy mechanisms agreed in the Stormont House Agreement was published by the government today and will now be consulted on.

The four-month public consultation will seek to canvass views on a series of new mechanisms to investigate, document and uncover the truth around killings during the 30-year conflict.

The implementation of the agreed mechanisms, which include a new independent investigation unit and a truth recovery body, has been delayed amid ongoing political discord in Northern Ireland.

Karen Bradley MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said: "I welcome the opportunity to launch the consultation today, seeking views on how to address the legacy of Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

"Since my appointment as Secretary of State I have heard deeply moving stories about the suffering that victims and survivors have lived with for decades and the profound and lasting impact on individuals, families and communities."

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Michelle O'Neill

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said: “While today’s publication of the draft bill is welcome, it is already long overdue. The Stormont House Agreement was four years ago and the institutions agreed then are still not in operation.

"Victims should not have had to wait so long to get to this stage. They should not have had to see so many false promises from the British Government come and go during that period.

"This is much too important an issue for it to be jeopardised by in-fighting within the Tory cabinet as we have seen over recent days.

"The Stormont House legacy bodies are key to finding a way forward on the past so its important that we now move on with the consultation and the British Government end their stalling, delaying and deliberate misinformation with regard to this issue.

“Similarly, they must drop their ongoing refusal to release the legacy inquest funding requested by the Lord Chief Justice.

“It is now over six weeks since the High Court ruled that this money was unlawfully blocked by the former First Minister Arlene Foster.

“The British Secretary of State should immediately release the funding and enable the Lord Chief Justice to proceed with his plan to clear the backlog of legacy inquests.”

It has emerged Arlene Foster is considering appealing the ruling that found her decision to block funding for legacy inquests was “unlawful and flawed”.

Her party colleague, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the BBC's The View on Thursday evening that the decision is “currently being reviewed in terms of potential for appeal” of the High Court ruling.

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DUP leader Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: "Previously the NIO had discussed having a consultation in parallel with establishment of the structures from the Stormont House Agreement. That would have merely been a ‘tick-box’ exercise without any meaningful input from victims.

"I am glad the Government has now published the consultation. It is vital that the voice of victims is at the centre of this process and that their views shape the outcome. I would encourage all those who have suffered and groups representing victims to engage fully with the process.

"Several decades have passed since many of the events which occurred during the Troubles. Victims are getting older and we owe it to them to make progress quickly.”

Ulster Unionist Party Leader Robin Swann MLA has also warned about the "dangers" posed by the proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU).

"I welcome the fact that the Government has now decided to launch the long awaited Legacy consultation and urge the public to take this opportunity to have their saym" he said.

“There is no question that the current methods of dealing with the past are imbalanced, unfair and piecemeal, but nobody should be in any doubt that the proposed HIU – the brainchild of DUP negotiators - has the potential to make things much worse.

“It will be a parallel police force under the direction of an independent director, with the same powers as the PSNI in terms of arrest and investigation, but we believe it will target its activities against former soldiers and police officers.

"This is inevitable, because the State, the RUC and the Army all have historical operational archives and records that the HIU can freely access, whereas no equivalent files are held by the terrorist groups. As a result, the HIU focus will fall on the police and the army."

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