A woman whose brother was shot dead on Bloody Sunday and whose father was wounded in an attempt to come to his aid has hit out at a statement released by Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.
Last night Ms Villiers issued a statement to the media which for the time being, has placed legislation on dealing with the past in Northern Ireland on the political back burner.
The legislation was due to be presented at Westminster yesterday, Monday, October 12, 2015.
However, yesterday’s Westminster Hansard record shows that the legislation has not been tabled and no written questions in relation to it have been set.
Last week, the ‘Journal’ obtained and published online a copy of the legislation which confirmed the suspicions of some victims relatives that the perpetrators of ‘Troubles’ related murders could make a confession for their crimes then walk away.
Despite initial denials that the draft legislation contained an amnesty for those who carried out killings, last night’s statement from the Secretary of State clearly says that it will be written in law that there will be neither an amnesty nor immunity from prosecution “for anybody for any crime.”
Ms Villiers statement said: “While information given to the proposed new Independent Commission on Information Retrieval will not be admissible in court, this provides no protection from prosecution should evidence be obtained by other means.”
The Secretary of State also contended that the Stormont House Agreement proposals as “the most broad ranging attempt yet to deal with the legacy of the past”.
Her statement continued: “One of the most difficult aspects of being Northern Ireland Secretary is hearing the painful stories of loss from victims and survivors of the Troubles.
“Over the past three years I have been deeply moved in the many meetings I have had with victims, listening at first hand to their harrowing personal stories.
“Events that might have happened decades ago are recounted as if they were yesterday.
“For so many people the pain and the suffering is a great today as it was then.
“There are remarkable tales of resilience, bravery and determination from those who suffered so much as a result of the Troubles.
“For many victims, their priority is bringing to justice those responsible for the death of their loved ones.
“Others simply want to know more about what happened.
“Yet, despite the excellent work carried out by, for example, the Victims’ Commissioner, there is widespread recognition that current structures are delivering neither of these outcomes.
“That is why during the Stormont House negotiations last year we set ourselves the ambitious task of devising new structures better able to meet the needs of victims and survivors.
“This was no easy task, not least given the very different views here about the Troubles.
“But last December at Stormont House we did manage to achieve a degree of consensus with Northern Ireland’s five main parties and the Irish Government around new bodies to deal with the legacy of the past - and to provide better results for victims and survivors.
“A new Historical Investigations Unit will investigate unsolved murders of the Troubles, with prosecutions where the evidence can be found.
“The Independent Commission on Information Retrieval will allow close relatives to seek information about what happened to their loved ones.
“An Oral History Archive will enable people to tell their stories.
“We are currently working hard with the parties here to put into practice what was agreed last December.
“As the Government set out in the Queen’s Speech following the election in May we intend to legislate soon to bring these bodies into existence.
“I appreciate that they touch on deeply sensitive issues. So I want to give people in Northern Ireland the following assurances.
“First, it will be written into law that all of these bodies will have to operate in a manner that is fair, balanced, impartial and proportionate. This is particularly important when 90 per cent of deaths in the Troubles were caused by terrorists.
“Second, as I said at the Conservative Party conference, this government will never be party to a re-write of history or any attempt to give legitimacy to those who pursued their objectives by the bullet or the bomb.
“Third, this Government will never accept equivalence between those who did their duty protecting people from terrorist attacks, and those who spent thirty years inflicting terrorist attacks.
“Finally, it will be written into law that there is no amnesty or immunity from prosecution for anybody for any crime.
“While information given to the proposed new Independent Commission on Information Retrieval will not be admissible in court, this provides no protection from prosecution should evidence be obtained by other means.”
“As a government we believe in the rule of law, which should be applied without fear or favour.
“Where evidence exists, prosecutions must follow.
“I appreciate that these new bodies will not satisfy everyone.
“But they do represent the most broad ranging attempt yet to deal with the legacy of the past in a way that puts victims and survivors first.
“There is no set of reforms which will provide a perfect solution to such a painful and difficult area, but the new bodies proposed in the Stormont House Agreement will be a very significant improvement on the status quo.
“I hope that with the assurances I have made, they will be given a fair wind.”
However, Bloody Sunday relative Kate Nash strongly hit out at the statement and told the ‘Journal’: “Having read the statement, three words come to mind-pandering, selective and backpedaling.
“Ms Villiers would seem to see a distinction between killers. In her statement she states ‘this Government will never accept equivalence between those who did their duty protecting people from terrorist attacks, and those who spent thirty years inflicting terrorist attacks.’
“As a Troubles victim I would question the Secretary of States’ view on the terrorist attack known as Bloody Sunday which saw unarmed civilians murdered by those she regards as protectors. If this legislation is to be redrawn then I hope that this time the process will take into account the views of all victims. This process must be open and transparent as anything else will represent a closed shop.
“Following a meeting with David Ford last week we requested a meeting with the Secretary of State but as yet nothing has been confirmed. We feel such a meeting would allow Ms Villers to hear a broad range of victims views first hand.”
Meanwhile, three of the five political parties on the Northern Ireland Executive to state that the proposals set out in draft legislation on dealing with the past within the Stormont House Agreement should not proceed to Westminster at this stage.
Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein have expressed that they have major concerns about the legislation going forward. The bill is expected to be tabled at Westminster this week and quite possibly as soon as today, October 12, 2015.
SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan has expressed was he has described as “his profound concerns about the ‘chicane of flaws’ which have been written into proposed legislation on dealing with the legacy of the past”.
Mr Durkan, a member of the SDLP delegation at the Stormont talks, said: “Prior to the current talks the SDLP registered a number of fundamental concerns about what we feared was the direction of travel away from some of the terms of the Stormont House Agreement.
“We have continually reminded the British government, the Irish government and all the other parties – as we said publicly on the day it was issued – Stormont House falls short of the Haass proposals, which in turn fell short of Eames / Bradley. As we stated then, the requirement for victims and the wider needs of society and future generations is to build up from the Stormont House Agreement to try to make good its inadequacies.
“The draft clauses which we have now seen from the British government detract and divert from the terms of the Stormont House Agreement in too many areas for them to be acceptable even for tabling.”
And, Sinn Fein MLA for Foyle has described proposed legislation on dealing with the past are “unacceptable and a clear breach of the Stormont House Agreement”.
Raymond McCartney, vice-chair of the Assembly Justice Committee also said the British government need to do more to resolve the difficulties it has created for the political process.
“All the parties at Stormont House agreed on the need to provide justice and truth recovery mechanisms for the families of victims of the conflict.
“The British government’s legislation on dealing with the legacy of the past is in clear breach of the Stormont House Agreement.
“The legislation being proposed by Theresa Villiers and her colleagues in the British government is about hiding the British state’s role as a central player in the conflict and its collusion with unionist death squads.
“That is unacceptable. The British government has created many of the difficulties currently faced by the Executive and they must step up to the plate in working with others in finding resolutions,” he said.
When asked for the Alliance Party stance on the situation, a spokesperson told the ‘Journal’: “Alliance believes dealing with the past is a crucial aspect of building a stable and shared Northern Ireland, and getting the legislation right is more important than sticking to parliamentary timetables.
“We have advised the Government they should be seeking to secure the broadest possible political consensus and support for any new institutions for dealing with the past, thereby creating the conditions for the broadest possible public support for those institutions, and that it would be better to take the necessary time to secure such a consensus, rather than introduce a Bill with only narrow political support.
“In terms of the content, Alliance continues to work with the governments and the political parties to ensure the clauses deliver on the commitments made in the Stormont House Agreement.”
The DUP has taken a more reticent approach. A spokesman told the ‘Journal’: We want to see the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement and welcome the fact that this is one of the issues being focused upon in the current talks.
“As for the specifics of what will be contained in the legislation we will obviously wait until that is published before making any detailed comment upon this. We continue to remain focused on the issues at hand in the talks, namely the need to deal with ongoing paramilitary activity and the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.”
When asked for their stance on the sitaution with regard to the victoms legislation, a spokesman for the Ulster Unionist Party said they had “no comment” to make.