Belfast Telegraph

UK Government must establish legacy bodies now if it cares anything about victims' rights

One-sided amnesties just a ploy to muddy waters while time runs out for relatives, says Alban Maginness

By Alban Maginness

Ann Service is the mother of Brian, who was cruelly murdered in Alliance Avenue in north Belfast in Halloween 1998. He was 35, a young Catholic man without any paramilitary or political connections, simply walking at night-time through an area that could be described as an interface between Catholic and Protestant Ardoyne.

No one was ever brought to justice for his killing, but it is highly probable that he was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries.

There are many questions surrounding his senseless murder.

But they cannot be satisfactorily answered at this moment in time without access to records and sensitive documents which are currently inaccessible pending the setting up of bodies empowered to legally examine them.

Last week his mother Ann, in an open letter to Secretary of State James Brokenshire, demanded that the means by which those questions could be answered should be activated by the UK Government. She is right.

What she asked for was that the UK Government should act to ensure stalled mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles are finally established. These were part of the Stormont House Agreement of 2014.

The Agreement was to deliver a new independent investigatory unit, a truth recovery body and an oral history archive. As a whole, these legacy bodies would go a long way to satisfy the needs of victims' families to achieve truth regarding the death of their loved ones. Certainly, the Victims Commissioner and the Victims Forum support this.

It is a scandal that none of these legacy bodies have been established due to a collective political failure to reach agreement in actioning them.

Not for the first time has politics let down victims and survivors, who were specifically identified in the Good Friday Agreement as being of special concern.

This is not some minor political issue, but an issue of basic humanity that has not received the centrality that it deserves. These are the people who have borne most during the Troubles and who continue to be troubled with the pain and sorrow of that turbulent period. The Troubles may seem to some as history, but to them it is a living, painful present. Their needs therefore command a higher priority than what has been given.

What Ann is rightly saying is that time is running out for people like herself to access the truth about her son's murder. Her opinion is widely shared across the families of victims. Her husband Davy died four years ago, and was unable to avail of any truth recovery process.

Time is of the essence in the establishment of these institutions. The power to establish them lies with Westminster, not our slumber mode Assembly.

Therefore, it rests with the UK Government to implement what was agreed at Stormont House.

Mr Brokenshire has stated that he will go out to consultation on these proposed institutions and then proceed on the basis of that consultation.

All of this means more delay and more frustration for people like Ann, who have been waiting for many years for some form of truth so that they can come to terms with their loved ones' deaths and achieve closure before they themselves die. Surely this is not too much to ask?

But, typically, even this proposal by the UK Government to consult has been muddied by the ridiculous and partisan proposal by the Tory administration to introduce a statute of limitations on crimes committed by the security forces during the course of the Troubles. This is, of course, a one-sided proposal that would be tantamount to an amnesty for British soldiers alone.

The shadow of the powerful and insidious military establishment in Britain is all over this provocative proposal. It hasn't got any chance of being implemented in law, because to do so would be to deprive non-State actors like the IRA of similar relief, and would be struck down as being unconstitutional.

And it may well have been cynically intended to produced such a public outcry that would lead to a similar amnesty being proposed for IRA and UVF members who committed crimes during the Troubles, so as to permit a general amnesty for all in the Troubles.

This is something opposed by practically all victims' groups, and even DUP leader Arlene Forster has expressed her concern.

The time for delay and messing about is gone. Urgent action is required - a timescale of six months should be sufficient to get things up and running legislatively and administratively. We are now into injury time for many survivors and victims' families. And for some, like Davy Service, it is far too late.

Belfast Telegraph

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