Robin Swann: Yes, our handling of legacy issues has been shameful... but these proposals will make things worse, not better
The Government says our dealings with the past should be 'balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable'. This Bill will provide none of those things, writes Robin Swann
The current system for dealing with the past is not working and change is necessary, but that is no reason to replace the current system with something even worse.
We have little or no confidence that the proposed legacy arrangements will in any way help achieve the Bill's stated principle that the approach to dealing with Northern Ireland's past should be "balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable".
We believe that the structures for dealing with legacy contained in this consultation are fundamentally and structurally flawed.
They will not provide truth, or justice; they are not balanced, or fair; they will not give a clear, unbiased historical narrative; and they will do nothing to help with reconciliation.
At the outset, it has to be said that the entire process of dealing with the past in Northern Ireland seems to be predicated on the assumption that a system needs to be put in place where the police and Army need to be investigated and punished, with the primary example being the determination to introduce the charge of "non-criminal police misconduct".
It is what we would expect to see in a country where an investigation was being conducted into the activities of a military-led junta now gone and replaced by a democratic government.
This is, of course, close to the thinking of republicans and those who wish to rewrite the past and portray some kind of "war" between the IRA and the police and Army.
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This entirely, quite deliberately and shamefully, misses the key point that what was going on in Northern Ireland was a struggle between the rule of law, in the form of the UK Government and its legitimate forces, and illegal, violent terrorist gangs hellbent on anarchy.
At a Press conference to launch Sinn Fein's response to the consultation, Gerry Kelly MLA said that: "They (the British Government) were the main protagonists. They are a government. They had 31,000 troops. They have a standing army of 150,000."
This claim is not a "different narrative of the past"; it is utter fantasy and a denial of reality. It completely missed the fact that the British Government is the lawful authority within the United Kingdom.
Their authority comes from being elected by the British people. They have a seat at the UN and on the Security Council. They are signatories to international treaties. Like every other democratic nation state, they have a standing army.
While the current system for dealing with the past is not working and change is, indeed, necessary, that change must be an improvement, must be workable and also deliver what this society needs.
We have serious concerns about a number of aspects of the legacy proposals. In our submission, we also make reference to our concerns regarding the operation of the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval, Oral History Archive and the Implementation & Reconciliation Group, but our main concerns relate to the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU).
We simply cannot stand by and permit the rewriting of history, or the promotion of a narrative that, at its core, has the sole intent of undermining the State and the security forces in order to suit a republican agenda and appease the IRA.
The rule of law must not be sacrificed in times of peace to appease the terrorists and their apologists.
We need to recognise the existing imbalance. Terrorists have been able to avail of early release from prison; received Royal Prerogatives of Mercy, or Royal Pardons, for premeditated crime, including murder, between 1998 and 2002, and over 200 people were also given so-called "letters of comfort" by the Blair Government.
The lack of credible historical records from terrorist groups - republican and loyalist - inevitably means the focus of investigations will fall on the State and its actors, because the State, the police and the Army all routinely kept operational records, which can be accessed.
A former Justice Minister is quoted as saying the HIU "might at best produce one or two prosecutions", raising the fundamental question as to why we need a parallel police force under the direction of an all-powerful independent director, with the same powers as the PSNI in terms of arrest and investigation?
The proposed HIU will only examine 1,700 fatalities out of a total of over 3,500 deaths and will do nothing for the 47,000 victims who were injured as a result of terrorist activity, including 15,000 bombings. Incredibly and shamefully, none of the injured will be taken into account by the proposed HIU. Where else in the world would attempted murder not be seen as a serious crime worth investigating?
HIU will re-examine every killing by British military personnel and members of law enforcement agencies. But it will not re-examine every killing where British military personnel and members of law enforcement agencies were the victims. Where is the balance here?
It will, however, investigate "non-criminal police misconduct", which is essentially a catch-all clause and, indeed, it even has powers to go after former officers who are now dead.
The PSNI is the police service that all five main political parties support, at least in public. In dealing with legacy, we believe that it should be properly resourced to the level envisaged by the Stormont House Agreement, staffed to the level envisaged by the Patten Report and supported by Government legislation that will stop vexatious complaints, or endless judicial reviews.
It would be nothing short of madness and a cowardly betrayal for any government to acquiesce in a process that will sacrifice the reputation of its police and soldiers as an act of appeasement to IRA terrorists.
The imbalance in the availability of credible historical records and the fact that the proposed Historical Investigations Unit will only examine some fatalities and do nothing for the 47,000 victims injured as a result of terrorist activity is totally unacceptable.
In summary, the Ulster Unionist Party has little or no confidence that the proposed legacy arrangements will in any way help achieve the Bill's stated principle that the approach to dealing with Northern Ireland's past should be "balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable".
It's a scandal which should be stopped.
Robin Swann MLA is leader of the Ulster Unionist Party