The Commission’s policy position
What we advised Government
The Government’s new proposals
Commission for Victims and Survivors Northern Ireland recommendations contained in Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past, Advice Paper (January 2019)
Historical Investigations Unit (HIU)
1) The Commission recommends that learning from the work of Operation Kenova is considered during the design of the HIU to ensure that victims and survivors are aware of, and able to exercise, their rights;
2) The Commission recommends that a Victims and Survivors Steering Group is established and is involved in the process of co-designing and advising on policies and procedures that relate to the rights, needs and interests of victims and survivors;
3) The Commission recommends that a well-resourced Family Liaison Unit is established within the HIU and that it should have dedicated officers to provide high quality, empathetic and specifically tailored support for families;
4) The Commission recommends that the Family Liaison Unit should develop protocols for engagement and shared understanding of roles and responsibilities between the investigation and existing Victims and Survivors Service funded advocacy services and Department for Justice funded witness support services;
5) The Commission recommends that a pathway is created for victims and survivors that will allow access to both advocacy and health and wellbeing support before, during and after engagement with the HIU;
6) The Commission recommends the consideration of a joint strategy to be developed that would allow for a sharing of expertise in relation to navigating the criminal justice system, providing support to witnesses and assisting those specifically affected by conflict-related incidents;
7) It is the Commission’s view that service provision must be nuanced to meet the specific needs of victims and survivors of conflict-related incidents and recommends that there is bespoke and accredited training for HIU Officers;
8) The Commission recommends that the HIU must operate in as transparent a manner as possible to demonstrate commitment to developing trust with victims and survivors;
9) The Commission has concerns regarding the full disclosure of information into the HIU. If the intention of the HIU is to provide clarity and build confidence, then it is paramount that information is not seen to be withheld by any government or institution. The Commission therefore recommends that a process is developed to ascertain and clarify what the HIU can ‘reasonably require’ from a relevant authority;
10) In order for the HIU to be as inclusive as possible, the Commission recommends that the HIU should include a review of all deaths, including those which have already been subject to a Historical Enquires Team review. On the basis of this, and in consultation with family members, a decision should be made by the HIU Director as to whether a further investigation would enable more or better information for families and/or evidence to be uncovered;
11) The Commission recommends that those who died at the scene of an incident should also be eligible to be included in the remit of the HIU. This would provide the families of these individuals with an HIU family report and access to the support mechanisms that will underpin the work of the HIU;
12) The Commission believes that victims and survivors should be entitled to access justice regardless of where a death happened. Therefore, it is imperative that both the UK and Irish governments provide the necessary resources to allow all conflict-related deaths to be fully investigated and have parity with investigations that will be undertaken by the HIU. The Commission recommends that either the HIU or a centralised police unit is empowered to investigate conflict-related deaths in Great Britain. This should be coupled with a commitment from the UK Government to adequately fund and resource both investigations and the provision of advocacy and support services to victims and survivors;
13) The Commission requests that the Irish Government establish a mechanism whereby Troubles related deaths within the Republic of Ireland are investigated;
14) The Commission recommends that the Governments establish separate mechanisms that will provide access to truth and/or justice for victims and survivors who have been injured;
15) It is the Commission’s view that the allocated funding, of £150 million, will not allow the HIU to fully deliver on all responsibilities. This view has also been echoed by stakeholders with an interest in the HIU’s work in order for it to be fit for purpose. The Commission recommends that the Government needs to adequately fund the HIU and other mechanisms; and
16) The expansion of the HIU caseload to include cases reviewed by the HET would make the timeframe of five years unachievable. Whilst there are provisions within the legislation to extend, the Commission recommends that the Government provides more time to allow the HIU and other institutions to be established and successfully complete their allocated case load.
Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR)
17) The Commission recommends that a Victims and Survivors Steering Group should be established to ensure the work the ICIR meets the needs of victims and survivors. In addition, the Commission believes the same structures that we have recommended to support victims and survivors through the HIU should be replicated in the ICIR; this includes a Family Liaison Unit within the ICIR with clear processes for communication with organisations providing support and advocacy for families. The Commission believes that this should be stipulated in legislation;
18) The Commission recommends that ICIR interlocutors should engage with families, to assist them in deciding what questions should be asked regarding the death of their loved one;
19) The Commission recommends that a proactive outreach strategy should be developed and delivered to reach out to those individuals who otherwise may not have enough information to make a decision as to whether to engage with the ICIR;
20) The Commission recommends that the UK Government establish an appeals process, similar to the HIU process, which will allow victims and survivors to appeal decisions to redact information on national security grounds. The Commission requests that the Irish Government also gives this consideration;
21) The Commission recommends that the timeframe for the ICIR is coterminous with the HIU;
22) The Commission recognises that the danger of information ‘leaking’ between the ICIR and the HIU must be removed. At the same time the Commission is concerned that sequencing the HIU and ICIR would effectively remove the option of the ICIR from family members who are ageing and may not feel they have time to wait. The Commission therefore recommends all alternatives are explored;
23) One of the key issues to be addressed is the impact of incomplete or incorrect information about the death of a loved one. To minimise the risk of this, the Commission recommends adequate testing of the veracity of information by using other sources;
24) The Commission recommends that clarity is provided on how the ICIR would work in relation to the Official Secrets Act (1989) and if this would mean that members of the security forces and ex-security forces personnel would be unable to contribute to the ICIR; and
25) The Commission recommends that there is an extension to the proposed timeframe for the ICIR and that this is included in the draft Bill; experience from the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains indicates that this process takes time to deliver results.
Oral History Archive (OHA)
26) It is the Commission’s view that the Steering Group should represent the needs and aspirations of victim and survivors. Its composition must reflect not only the expertise that will be required to manage such a project, but also the empathy and understanding of experiences that will be collated. The Commission therefore recommends that victims and survivors are represented on the OHA Steering Group;
27) Similar to the HIU and the ICIR, the Commission recommends that a pathway is created for victims and survivors that will allow access to both advocacy and health and wellbeing support before, during and after engagement with the OHA;
28) The Commission recommends that existing community-based oral history/storytelling projects should be involved in the collation process;
29) The Commission recommends that both Governments clarify whether any individuals who have signed the Official Secrets Act can give information to the OHA. There is a perception that those who have signed the Official Secrets Act, in both jurisdictions, will be unable to engage and that this may impact on the balance of narratives collected;
30) The Commission recommends that the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland produces clear guidance regarding record retention and disposal to provide clarity on how it will manage different types of records;
31) The Commission recommends the OHA have the same timeframe as the other proposed legacy mechanisms to allow for consistency in reporting to the Implementation and Reconciliation Group;
32) The Commission recommends that the OHA is adequately resourced to allow it to deliver its intended outputs; and
33) The Commission believes that there is merit in establishing a factual timeline which would be a helpful tool for those working with victims and survivors and anyone with an interest in legacy matters. Further, the Commission would imagine that such a resource would be utilised as an education tool for informing our children and young people. Whilst the Commission is supportive of the proposal, the purpose is unclear and recommends that clarity is provided regarding the purpose of this timeline and any related research projects.
Implementation and Reconciliation Group (IRG)
34) The Commission recommends that the membership of the IRG should include an individual who can represent the voice of victims and survivors;
35) The Commission recommends that clear criteria are developed for the nomination of an individual to the IRG. In addition to this there should be clear guidance on the circumstances in which an individual can or should be removed from their duties as a member of the IRG;
36) The Commission recommends that the IRG develops and uses clearly defined parameters to allow for the assessment and evaluation of how the HIU, ICIR and OHA impact on the lives of victims and survivors and promote reconciliation and anti-sectarianism in order to secure public confidence;
37) The Commission recommends that accurate timescales need to be developed as to when the IRG will be able to conduct its work. Closer examination of the HIU highlights that the allocated five years will not be enough for the originally planned 1,700 cases to be investigated and this will have an impact on how the IRG will report; and
38) The Commission recommends that when the work of the IRG is completed it should be used to inform a new government strategy for building reconciliation, anti-sectarianism and ending paramilitarism. This strategy should be interdepartmental to ensure that the delivery of other relevant programmes are aligned to its work and will create positive impact.
Matters Outside the Consultation’s Scope
39) The need to make provision for a pension payment to the severely injured is of paramount importance. Not least because this group of victims and survivors are an ageing population with increasing financial and welfare needs. The Commission would recommend that consultation and legislation be progressed at Westminster (in the absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly) to address this as a matter of priority;
40) While important work is ongoing in developing the new Regional Trauma Network, it can only continue to do so and become an effective trauma service if it is appropriately funded. The Commission recommends that while funding has been provided to assist the development of the service, a significant increase in resources will be required in the years ahead to meet expected high demand as legacy mechanisms are implemented;
41) The need for advocacy and health and wellbeing support has been a key requirement of any proposals to deal with the past. In anticipation of legacy matters being consulted upon the Victims and Survivors Service secured PEACE IV funding for Advocacy and Wellbeing support in community-based organisations across Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Given the lead in time for establishing new institutions it is likely that funding for these key support posts will be coming to an end in March 2021 just as the new bodies are being established. The Commission would recommend that funding discussions with both governments takes place to ensure these key posts are sustained throughout the lifetime of the new legacy bodies; and
42) Legacy inquests are not an explicit measure within the Stormont House Agreement, however the legal right to have inquest heard in the Coroners Courts is a critical element of addressing legacy of the past. The backlog accrued of 50 outstanding legacy inquests into 94 deaths, some of which date back over 40 years requires urgent attention.
The Commission recommends that sufficient resources should be committed to legacy inquests to ensure that victims and survivors are able to exercise their legal right to review the circumstances which lead to the death of a loved one. The Commission believes that it is also an opportunity to develop better information management systems and techniques that could be transferred to the new HIU;
43) It is the Commission’s view that approaches, such as amnesties and a statute of limitations, would take away opportunities for victims and survivors from all sides to seek the truth, justice or acknowledgement that they feel an investigation would bring. The Commission therefore recommends that alternative approaches to addressing the past, outside of the proposed mechanisms contained in the Stormont House Agreement, are not considered by Government.
Impact on Existing Services
44) The Commission recommends that any new mechanisms build upon the established service provision and networks for services to victims and survivors; and
45) The Commission recommends that in the design stages of establishing mechanisms, responsible bodies take account of the resources required to support those engaging in legacy processes. The Commission believes that this can be best achieved through a process of partnership and collaborative working.
Accessing Services Outside Northern Ireland
46) The Commission welcomed the arrangements for support services outside of Northern Ireland being facilitated by PEACE IV funding. It needs to be noted that this support is limited and only guaranteed to 2021. Individuals outside of Northern Ireland can access support from the Victims and Survivors Service through the Individual Needs Programme. However, victims groups outside Northern Ireland cannot access funding in a way that is open to groups within Northern Ireland. The Commission views this as an inconsistency in the current policy and recommends this be addressed; and
47) The Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 contains no legal impediment to engaging and supporting victims and survivors outside Northern Ireland. The Commission understands there are both resource and administrative constraints that need to be considered further. The Commission recommends that the Government engages as a matter of priority with relevant stakeholders regarding how best to progress. The Commission would suggest engagement with the Victims and Survivors Service and the Executive Office in order to discuss practical approaches. Importantly, conversations with appropriate stakeholders in Great Britain are essential, for example with the Victims’ Commissioner and those with an interest in delivering support. Equally, with the cross-border nature of the proposed mechanisms, conversations with the Irish Government will be required.
 The functions of the Commission relate to those set out in the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 as amended by the Commission for Victims and Survivors Act (Northern Ireland) 2008.
 Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (2009) Victims and Survivors Strategy, The Stationery Office, p.2.
 CVSNI (2019) Extension to the Strategy for Victims and Survivors (2009-19) and Programme Funding, Policy Advice Paper, CVSNI.
 On the 4 May 2020, the Commission started an engagement process to inform the Commissioner’s advice to TEO on a new strategy for victims and survivors. More information can be accessed here: https://bit.ly/2ZmSB42
 NISRA (2017) Commission for Victims and Survivors Module of the September 2017 Northern Ireland Omnibus Survey, NISRA.
 McKitterick et al (2007) Lost Lives, Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing.
 Smyth et al (1999) The Cost of the Troubles Study – Final Report, INCORE: 37.
 CVSNI (2015) Towards a Better Future: The Trans-generational Impact of the Troubles on Mental Health, CVSNI.
 CVSNI (2017) Key Guiding Principles for Existing and Proposed Organisations and Processes Dealing with the Past, CVSNI.
 CVSNI (2018) CVSNI Response to the NIO’s Consultation on Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past, CVSNI.
 CVSNI (2019) Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past, Advice Paper, CVSNI.
 CVSNI (2014) Advice on Dealing with the Past: A Victim-Centred Approach, 27 March 2014, CVSNI.
 Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Addressing Northern Ireland Legacy Issues: Written statement - HLWS163 (18 March 2020) https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/ Lords/2020-03-18/HLWS163/ (accessed 27 May 2020).