Belfast Telegraph

Michelle O'Neill: Families have faced too many false dawns in bid for justice

By Michelle O'Neill

Over many years I have engaged with and listened to victims from right across the political spectrum recount countless stories of pain, injury and loss.

For the families who are waiting 45 years on access to the basic right of an inquest into their loved one's death, I have heard their frustrations. For many of them, time is not on their side and that wrong must be righted.

For all those seriously physically and psychologically injured, I have heard and listened to their immediate needs. I have engaged with families who are frustrated by protracted delays where the state has held back reports, information and documentation. We have seen thousands of people take to the streets of Belfast in February demanding the right to truth.

I want families to know that we in Sinn Fein have listened to your stories of injury and loss, your need for acknowledgement and your hopes for a better future. Your views have informed our approach to the legacy consultation which we published yesterday.

Implementing and participating in the legacy mechanisms will undoubtedly be an immensely difficult and painful process for families seeking answers into the death of a loved one, those injured, and society more generally.

We have to get it right. Families have faced too many false dawns and the legislation that emerges from this consultation must put their needs at the centre, not the needs of vested or political interests. Notwithstanding the risks, the new Stormont House Agreement legacy architecture has the potential to comprehensively engage with the past and facilitate a wider conversation about the future and building a society defined by the protection of rights for all.

Full implementation of legacy mechanisms agreed at Stormont House is key to realising that potential.

They must be implemented and they must be operated on the basis of equality, dignity and respect for all.

That will create the very real potential to write the words of a new chapter of the peace process.

Such an opportunity must not be squandered. This will require all sides to acknowledge, uphold and protect the rights of all victims.

It will require a collective focus on healing all the wounds of the past. It will require affirmation, sensitivity and generosity. It will require thinking and actions that are not defined by sectarian, sectional, party political or self-interest. It will require political leadership.

Now is the time to engage with the past.

But it is also time to build for the future.

Michelle O'Neill is deputy leader of Sinn Fein

Belfast Telegraph

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