The SDLP MP for Foyle Mark Durkan has said the Secretary of State (SoS)for Northern Ireland is “trying to airbrush some of the responsibility and liability of the State and forces acting in its name.
Mr Durkan spoke to the ‘Journal’ following a speech given by Theresa Villiers in Belfast yesterday morning outlining the British Government stance on dealing with the legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict.
Ms Villiers stated that the Brtish Government were intent on fighting back against what she described as a “pernicious counter narrative” that the State was responsible for nearly every atrocity during the ‘Troubles’.
The SoS also stated that the issue of national security still loomed large in the overall issue of dealing with the past and there was a need to guard against letting both dissident republicans and Islamist terrorists see how state security mechanisms worked.
“For some, every allegation of wrongdoing by the State-or those working for it-is treated as fact, however unsubstantiated or whatever the source and whatever the consequential distress to victims,” she said.
Ms Villiers also stated that full disclosure of documents will be made to the incoming Historical Inquiries Unit but the government has concerns about what may be made public because lives could be put at risk or it would compromise the capabilities of British security services.
In response Mark Durkan told the ‘Journal’: “I read that as a long-hand version of her denial to me in the Commons Chamber that there was a ‘Dirty War’,” he said.
“I can only judge the reliability of the Secretary of State when we see the legislation and we see that disclosure takes place.
“I recognise that our responsibility to properly address the past does not entail us trying to agree a received narrative on its horrible events and excesses.
“But, it will mean challenging some of the denial and self-serving delusion about the pernicious role of various elements and agencies in the violence visited on our community for so long. The Secretary of State contends that the discussions at Stormont House had higher or better agreement than before. However, the SDLP would have to point out that the proposals in Stormont
House II don’t have some of the strength or significance of the Hass proposals which in turn fell short of the strength and sensitivity of Eames/Bradley.
“We regret that other parties have resisted making the mechanisms more adequate and meaningful from so many perspectives, not least so many victims.
“That is why we have called on the Secretary of State to allow wider public engagement and consideration of these crucially important proposals before she tries to scramble them through legislation-claiming that a mixed level of agreement among parties should transcend the need to engage and assure victims and other wider interests as to the integrity, efficacy and sustainability of the suite of mechanisms which we need and need to optimise.
“The warning should be that the Secretary of State fast-tracked legislation for Direct Rule powers for Welfare reform at Westminster without proper scrutiny.
“She is now taking forward political and institutional aspects of the so-called ‘Fresh Start Agreement’ in ‘fast-tracked’ legislation without the normal scrutiny or consideration at Westminster,
“She must not use this as the working standard for the legislation on legacy issues as that will only leave victims and others anxious, suspicious and possibly aggrieved.
“It would also allow parties to continue to be capricious and inconsistent about the challenges and the opportunities that this crucial agenda brings.
“The Secretary of State’s statement is no substitute for the sort of pre-legislative scruntiny that is needed before legislation which was originally intended for the Assembly and scrutiny there is taken through Westminster with poor consideration.”
In her Belfast address Theresa Villiers accepted that over the period of the ‘Troubles’ there were some “truly shocking instances” where the security forces “fell drastically short” of those standards to which they should be held.
“Where there is evidence of wrongdoing it will be pursued. Everyone is subject to the rule of law . Yet, we need to be mindful of the context in which the security forces were operating,” she said.
Ms Villiers also paid tribute to the “remarkable dedication, professionalism and courage of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British armed forces during her speech.