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Legacy proposals ‘unilateral and unhelpful’, say MPs

26 October 2020

  • Northern Ireland Affairs Committee publishes interim report on Government proposals to tackle Troubles legacy cases.
  • Proposals branded ‘unilateral and unhelpful’ – legislation must be consistent with six principles of Stormont House and be introduced urgently.
  • Committee ‘dismayed’ by lack of engagement and consultation with stakeholders, Northern Ireland parties and Irish Government.
  • Demands answers on permanent case closures that ‘raise profound legal, ethical and human rights issues’.

Government prosposals a departure from previous agreement

MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee have branded the UK Government’s proposals to tackle Troubles legacy cases as ‘unilateral and unhelpful’ and condemned the lack of consultation with victims’ groups in an interim report published today.

The new proposals, outlined by the Northern Ireland Secretary in a written statement on 18 March, were a departure from the 2014 Stormont House Agreement that had set out a framework for a way forward to address the past. This was followed by a thorough public consultation in 2018. The Committee found the lack of detail given on the proposals since March ‘deeply concerning’. The Government must, as soon as possible, introduce legislation that is consistent with the six principles of the Stormont House Agreement.

Lack of consultation

In the report the Committee say that they were ‘dismayed by the lack of consultation and engagement with representative groups’ on the new approach before and after its publication. It said that historically peacebuilding in Northern Ireland had relied upon consensus-building and agreement, calling the March statement an ‘announcement of intent rather than part of a meaningful consultation process’. The interim report concluded that the Government must conduct meaningful and transparent consultation with victims’ groups, Northern Ireland political parties and, to the extent necessary, the Irish Government before publishing legislation.

Case closures

The Committee also found Government plans to permanently close cases of serious crimes relating to the Troubles that do not reach the investigatory threshold ‘raises profound legal, ethical and human rights issues’. The Government have stated that in order for a full police investigation to take place for legacy cases there must be ‘new compelling evidence’, without defining what this means. It added that there was ‘considerable doubt’ this was the right approach. It called on the Government to clarify its position on several points with regards to decisions to conduct investigations and close cases.

Chair's comments

The Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Simon Hoare MP said “How we tackle the legacy of the Troubles is, understandably, an enormous challenge. Doing so effectively requires engagement and consultation with all parties to get them on board. It is imperative that any new system commands cross-community and widespread support for it to have legitimacy.

The Stormont House Agreement, not without its weaknesses, had appeared to be the basis on which we could move forward, but the Government’s new proposals are a unilateral departure from that. The report found there was a lack of consultation, not even with the very people it is supposed to serve; the victims. The move is counterproductive and seems more like a decree than a natural evolution of an agreed framework.

We are calling on Government to urgently introduce legislation based on the core principles of the Stormont House Agreement and return to a collaborative approach, engaging with victims’ groups, parties, and – where necessary – the Irish Government. Without this, there is no buy-in, no legitimacy, no credibility for a way forward on legacy which would only serve to delay the wait for truth.

We’re also concerned by the implications of the potential permanent closure of legacy cases and the proposed threshold for cases put forward to full police investigation. Who will decide which cases should be closed and how? Can these decisions be appealed? What’s the definition of ‘new compelling evidence’ and who will decide that?

We’d expected those questions and others to be answered in the usual way in written and/or oral evidence, but the Government failed to provide any such evidence. Consequently, this is necessarily an interim report until we receive it. We urge the UK Government to urgently provide this evidence and invite the Irish Government to do the same to help clarify the situation for victims.

Despite assurances that this policy area would be addressed in a speedy manner, it’s seven months since the announcement of the new proposals, and we know nothing more. This delay and uncertainty will only perpetuate an unacceptable wait for victims and the families affected that has already gone on far too long.”

Other recommendations

Other recommendations included in the report:

  • The Government must set out the rationale for its decision to abandon the model of a separate Historical Investigations Unit and Independent Commission for Information Retrieval as set out in the Stormont House draft Bill, and explain the merits of a single organisation to perform both tasks.

  • The Government must ensure any new legacy institution has sufficient funding to carry out its work thoroughly and effectively.

  • The Government must publish guidelines setting out the steps the body and its staff will take to ensure that its investigations are compliant with ECHR.

  • The Government must set out how its proposed information recovery system will operate.

  • The Government must examine the lessons that can be learned from Operation Kenova.

Further information

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