The ‘Derry Journal’ has obtained a copy of the strand of the Stormont House Agreement dealing with the legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict.
The ‘Journal’ understands that the parties involved in the current negotiations received the legislation on September 29. It is also understood that the legislation is due to be placed before Westminster as early as next week with October 12 being the most likely date.
Previously 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.”
A central part of the legislation concentrates on the setting up of a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) which will take over from the Historical Enquiries Team.
The document reveals that the responsibility for appointing the head of the HIU will fall to the First and Deputy First Minister who will also hold the power to dismiss them.
Relatives of Derry people killed during the Troubles have already given a scathing assessment of the draft policy version of the Stormont House Agreement (SHA), released on September 23.
Kate and Linda Nash whose brother was shot dead on Bloody Sunday and whose father was seriously wounded on the same day have been scathing of the arrangements and of the fact that sight of this legislation had been denied to them.
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.”
Theresa Villiers also recently stated 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.
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 subsequently confirmed by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State.
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, Secretary of Stare Theresa Villiers said the proposals are not tantamount to an amnesty and that confessors could still face prosecution if evidence comes to light from other avenues.
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.