Relatives of Derry people killed during the Troubles have launched a scathing assessment of the draft version of the Stormont House Agreement (SHA), released on September 23.
Last week the ‘Journal’ revealed that a Freedom of Information request seeking to view the details of the proposed bill was refused on the grounds that releasing such information was “likely to prejudice development and subsequent implementation and could allowed targeted lobbying by certain groups that could inhibit objective decisions being made.”
Despite obvious public interest in the issue, the refusal of the freedom of Information request also cited: “Although the proposed policies will involve changes which could have a significant effect on the general public, the disclosure of the information may have an adverse effect on the policy makers in that they would be less likely to provide a full and frank advice or opinions on policy proposals.”
However, despite the Freedom of Information refusal, the draft version of the SHA, containing detail on how to deal with the legacy of the conflict was released on line last Wednesday.
The digital publication of the document coincided with loyalist Jamie Bryson appearing before a Stormont committee in connection with allegations of financial irregularity with the sale of the Northern Ireland property portfolio held by ‘toxic bank’ NAMA.
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. And, despite this being denied by political parties and the Northern Ireland Office, the assertions were confirmed in fact by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers last week.
t present, the PSNI could arrest up to 56 soldiers in connection with the Bloody Sunday massacre, but haven’t done so-Kate Nash
The Secretary of State said that in order to encourage perpetrators to come forward structures agreed during the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) last year will mean confessions will not be made known to victims’ and that any information given over will not be admissable in legal proceedings.
Kate and Linda Nash who’s brother was shot dead on Bloody Sunday and who’s father was seriously wounded on the same day have been scathing of the arrangements made under the SHA. Helen Deery, who’s 15-year-old brother Manus was shot dead by the British army has also hit out at the proposals.
Kate Nash said: “Forty-three years on from the murder of our loved ones and we are no further forward in our quest for justice. The police, military and some politicians know who fired the shots. If this was happening in any other country in the world, the outcry from the international community, including the British government would be deafening. For us, justice being delayed is justice being denied.”
However, Theresa Villiers said that confessors could still face prosecution if evidence comes to light from other avenues.
It has also been confirmed that the five political parties in the Stormont Executive-DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance, as well as the British and Irish Governments all agreed to these proposals last December as part of the SHA negotiations.
And, according to the Secretary of State the proposals do not amount to a general amnesty for those on all sides who carried out murders during the Troubles.
“There is no amnesty in this paper. There won’t be an amnesty in the bill, an amnesty was rejected by the Northern Ireland parties during the Stormont House talks-that is not the right way forward,” she said.
Legislation setting the way forward in respect of dealing with the past is now expected to come before Westminster on October 12.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ Kate Nash said: “Having read the policy paper there are a number of elements which are deeply concerning. Firstly, there is no mechanism within the Stormont House Agreement to deal with those injured or brutalised during the Troubles. The entire process is focused on death related cases between January 1,1996 and April 10, 1998.”
Part of the SHA mechanism for dealing with the past is a move to replace the current Historical Enquiries Team (HET) with a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), contending that the new HIU will have a greater degree of indepence in terms of powers of investigations as opposed to its predecessor.
However, Kate Nash told the ‘Journal’: “With the HIU expected to take on cases such as Bloody Sunday, this will mean further delays in the case. At present, the PSNI could arrest up to 56 soldiers in connection with the Bloody Sunday massacre, but haven’t done so. So, we question whether the HIU will be any different in their approach than the HET.
“In July this year, the United Nations Human Rights Committee reminded the British Government of the need to ensure the HIU would be independent in particular with regard to the disclosure of information. Despite this, Theresa Villiers will have the power to veto the contents of the HIU investigation reports on the grounds of ‘national security’.”
Another point of contention for victim’s relatives is that the draft proposals do not stop the HIU from recruiting people who have previously served in security positions in the North into it’s ranks.
An element of the agreement, that also causes deep concern, says Kate Nash, is the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval.
“This is a truth recovery process which offers ‘immunity’ to those who choose to co-operate. The evidence given to this body will not be admissable in civil, criminal or coronial proceedings, unless it comes from another source or arises from an investigation. We are also concerned that this information will be minimal and will not include the names of those involved. We are also concerned about the Implementation and Reconciliation Group (IRG). It may have been described as a key commitment of the agreement, but it remains unclear if it will be included in the Stormont House Agreement bill.
“This needs to be clarified as does the portion of the SHA which states ‘In the context of the work of the IRG, the UK and Irish Governments will consider statements of acknowledgment and would expect others to do the same’. Who or what does the word ‘others’ refer to?, “ asked Kate.
Kate Nash also said that victim’s relatives last week gave a list of additional queries on the issue to the political parties involved in the SHA talks but as yet they have received no response from any political party.