The SDLP MP for Foyle, Mark Durkan, has raised the concerns and suspicions of some of the relatives of Derry people killed in the city during the Troubles at Westminster.
Earlier this week Mr Durkan was challenged by Kate Nash, whose brother was shot dead on Bloody Sunday and whose father was also wounded. The challenge to the city’s MP came at Stormont as delegations from the main political parties gathered for talks over the current political impasse at the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Victims’ relatives had gathered at Stormont to protest after suspicions arose that a deal on the past had been completed by political parties during the negotiations of the Stormont House Agreement last Christmas.
Some victims’ relatives say they believe that the ‘deal’ amounts to an amnesty for those on all sides of the conflict who carried out killings during the Northern conflict.
Whilst political parties have denied that such a deal exists, relatives such as Kate Nash contended that there has been the establishment of an ‘Implementation and Reconcilaition Group’ wherein in exchange for a ‘statement of acknowledgement’ perpetrators would be allowed to walk away with an assurance they will not be prosecuted.
It is also contended that victims’ families will never know that such confessions have taken place and that legislation enshrining this supposed process in law will pass through Westminster later this autumn.
Kate Nash was scathing in her assessment of the situation and told the ‘Journal’ she believed the entire episode was an “exercise in deception”.
“We are just collateral damage to them. We cannot let them dismiss the pain our father suffered after the murder of our brother William. Every single party has betrayed us. It is being denied that this amounts to an amnesty, but that is what it is. This is about all victims’ cases. We travelled here to Stormont to voice our concerns because we need to make these politicians think about what they are doing,” she commented.
Whilst Kate Nash confronted Mark Durkan MP on the issue she also made it clear her anger extended to all the main political parties represented at the Assembly.
Mark Durkan told the ‘Journal’: “I appreciate the misgivings which they and other victims have about some of the terms for dealing with the past. While they may be confusing some of the detail, their suspicion is understandable amd some underlying concerns may be well-founded based on experience. Some of the points they have raised have been raised by the SDLP in discussions on the interpretation and implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.”
The SDLP MP also said they had offered to let relatives view SDLP papers on the issue which the party had submitted in recent weeks.
And, during Northern Ireland Questions at Westminster this week, Mr Durkan raised the issue with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers.
He said: “Questions about the past are particularly important. The Secretary of State should be aware that many victims and victims groups are expressing suspicion and concern about the burden of the proposals relating to the past and the fact that the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland is declining to have open consultation and hiding behind the fact that negotiations are taking place among party leaders.
“Will the Secretary of State assure the House that, if she introduces the proposed legislation, she will not hide behind or rest on the fact that there was no proper consultation, she will meet the victim groups to hear their concerns and suspicions, and she will avoid the sort of misadventure a previous government got into in 2005 with the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill?
“Many of the victims groups view the schemes and language attached to the arrangements on the past as on a par with that misadventure.”
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers replied: “On the proposed legislation, there was a discussion about having a consultation in Northern Ireland, but there was not enough consensus to enable that to happen.
“We will do everything we can to engage with a range of groups and with the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in advance of publishing our Bill, which we propose to do shortly.”