The head of a highly influential Irish-American lobby group has said he will ask the United States Congress to hold a hearing over concerns surrounding the proposed legislation on dealing with the past in Northern Ireland.
Fr Sean McManus, President of the Irish National Caucus last month briefed members of the U.S. Congress over concerns that had been raised to him by relatives of some people killed during the ‘Troubles’.
The cleric is a native of County Fermanagh and is known for his forthright views on the actions of the British Government in Ireland and has high level access to Washington politicians on Capitol Hill.
Fr McManus formed the Irish National Caucus in the 1970s. It is a human rights organization dedicated to getting the United States to stand up for justice and peace in Ireland. He was forwarded a copy of the draft version of the Stormont House Agreement published on the Northern Ireland Office website on September 23.
Some relatives of people shot dead in Derry had long held suspicions that a deal allowing perpetrators of killings to make a confession and walk away with assurances of immunity from prosecution. These fears were confirmed this week when the ‘Derry Journal’ obtained and published a copy of the legislation. The proposed legislation it is understood, will be presented at Westminster next week on October 12.
The document asserts that perpetrators of killings would be able to confess their crimes to the newly established Historical Inquiries Unit (HIU) and then walk away without fear of prosecution. Relatives of those killed will also not be told if any disclosure had been made in relation to the deaths of their loved ones.
The legislation does allow scope for prosecutions if new evidence comes to light and the manner in which disclosed information will be evaluated makes it unlikely that a a wide range of prosecutions will ever take place.
The HIU is set to replace the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and unlike the HET will have full policing powers and access to State documents.
Yet relatives have highlighted hey fear the HIU will not contain the promised level of investigative independence hoped for.
The new director of the HIU will be appointed by First and Deputy First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness and they will also have the power to sack the director.
Members of the British Army and police - both former RUC, PSNI and serving members of those organisations, will be eligible to take up posts as ‘independent investigators’,
The establishment of the HIU is set to cost £150 million and its remit is set to last five years.
The Secretary of State will have the ultimate say, however, with the power to shut the entire operation down.
And, cross-border evidence from the Gardai in relation to ‘Troubles’ related murders will not be admissable in Northern Ireland as the legislation contends it may be detrimental to international relations between Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ this afternoon, Fr McManus said the revelations of the last few days had caused him concern.
“The first concern that has struck me is whether or not this represents an amnesty. If the British refuse to disclose information using the guise that it will compromise national security they will be simply be reverting back to their old fall back position. And, if this is the case then how do you around this, because it will not be changed. If MI5 and other state agencies come in and say they are taking over then the police will not matter.
“This has been one of my main concerns throughout the peace process, which I have supported wholeheartedly. I am also concerned therefore that we may be brought back to square one and the British are acting in their own interests with this proposed legislation to protect their own high powered people.
“What will then become of investigations into collusion? In fact if this represent an amnesty for the British forces then I am profoundly concerned that a legitimate course cannot be charted for the guidance of all victims families.
“If all the talk and promises and pledges about justice are empty, this will simply compound the grief of all the families concerned. And, because of these concerns I will be asking the U.S. Congress in a very short space of time to conduct a hearing into this-into the cover-ups, the collusion, about MI5 and the police.
“We have maintained the drum beat about collusion throughout the years and it will continue to be our theme because this to me has raised the controversy all over again. I am hopeful that a hearing can take place very early next year because this is an urgent matter,” said Fr McManus.
“I am personally, very disheartened by this,” continued Fr McManus.
“If it’s reverting back to the bad old days of the British Government then it shows that the top people are still pulling the strings. The Irish National Caucus are very aware of this issue and will be remaining on top of it and we will push very hard in Congress. We are less concerned with which individuals who were responsible for atrocities and more concerned with the powerful people who sent them out to commit them, who knew all about this and who continue to try and cover it up. If that remains the case, then the truth will never come out and justice will never be achieved.
“I want what the victims want : what the Fincucane family wants, what Ray Mc Cord wants, what the Bloody Sunday families want, what the Ballymurphy familes want— all the victims, Protestants as well as Catholics. For over forty years I have helped to give victims, Protestants and Catholics, a voice in the US Congress.
“Without justice all else is empty. Only justice can give full meaning to victims, enabling them to move on to a shared life from a shared tragedy.”