A Freedom of Information request to view draft proposals on how to deal with the legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict has been refused, the ‘Journal’ can reveal.
The news comes as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers yesterday confirmed that, as had been previously been suspected victims’ relatives, that those guilty of Troubles-related murders will be able to confess and then walk free. Victims’ relatives will also not be notified that any such disclosures will have been made.
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.
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.
Yet, 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 expected to come before Parliament this autumn.
However, a Freedom of Information request seeking to view the nature of the proposals has been refused by Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice.
The request to Department of Justice asked for a copy of the draft proposals regarding dealing with the past within the SHA.
In response, the Department of Justice gave reasons for and against the disclosure of the proposals.
In the end, and despite obvious public interest on the issue, the request was however refused even though the refusal notes that the upcoming proposals could have a significant effect on the general public.
The Department of Justice said: “Private space is required to enable the Stormont House Implementation group to debate and explore the full range of policies and options arising in the Stormont House Agreement.
“Releasing information about policies is likely to prejudice such development and subsequent implementation and could allowed targeted lobbying by certain groups that could inhibit objective decisions being made.
“Disclosure could compromise future consultation and thwart the exchange of ideas.
“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 full and frank advice or opinions on policy proposals.”
The response to the Freedom of Information request also noted that “invitations have been extended to relevant parties to participate in bilateral meetings regarding the establishment of the Historical Inquiries Unit and changes to legacy inquests.”
The response concludes: “It is our view that public interest in protecting the policy making activities outweighs the public interest in releasing the information.”
Relatives of Derry victim’s of the Troubles have long noted their suspicions that a final deal in dealing with the past will however amount to an amnesty for killers.
Kate Nash, whose brother William was shot dead by members of the British Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday and who father Alex was severely wounded coming to his son’s aid recently told the ‘Journal’: “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 is an amnesty, but that is what it is.”
The Northern Ireland Office had recently dismissed what has now been confirmed as accurate by the Secretary of State as “grossly misleading and highly irresponsible reporting”.
Theresa Villiers has however said that plans on how to deal with the past will not be activated until political resolution is found at Stormont, in particular on welfare reform. The policy paper outlined by Ms Villiers also contains proposed legislation required for an oral archive to document the history of the conflict.