The concerns of relatives of Troubles victim’s over what mechanisms are contained within the Stormont House Agreement for dealing with the past have now been raised at the United States Congress and the Dail.
One of the most powerful and vociferous advocates of Irish issues in Washington has now briefed key members of Congress. Fr Sean McManus, President of the Irish National Caucus has conveyed paper work on the concerns of the relatives for examination to representatives on Capitol Hill.
The cleric is a native of County Fermanagh and is known for his forthright views on the actions of the British Goverment in Ireland and has high level access to Washington politicians. Fr McManus formed the Irish National Caucus in the late 1970s. It is a human rights organization dedicated to getting the United States to stand up for justice and peace in Ireland. He was forwarded a copy of the draft version of the SHA published on the Northern Ireland website on September 23. The proposed legislation it is understood, will be presented at Westminster on October 12.
Kate Nash, whose brother was shot dead on Bloody Sunday, says that Fr McManus has assured her, that her and the concerns of other relatives of victims have now been directed to “key members of Congress.”
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 have now been confirmed by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers last week.
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 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.
This is a truth recovery process which offers ‘immunity’ to those who choose to co-operate
“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.
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.
Meanwhile, Independent T.D. for the Dublin North Constituency, Clare Daly has addressed the concerns to Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charles Flanagan in the Dail.
In a question the T.D. asked Mr Flanagan: “To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the discussions he has had regarding the manner in which proposals to deal with the past, as part of the Stormont House Agreement are being discussed, in relation to particularly, the concerns highlighted by a number of NGOs and related victims, whereby the lack of consultation regarding the process and serious concerns in terms of whether the investigation unit will be sufficiently independent to deal with issues of State collusion, have been raised; the steps he has taken to address this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter.”
In response to Ms Daly, the Minister said: “Agreement of the Stormont House Agreement on 23 December 2014 marked a watershed moment for dealing with the legacy of the past. The new institutions as agreed by the Stormont House Agreement provide for different ways of dealing with the past.
“The new Historical Investigations Unit provides for police investigation and, where there is an evidential basis, the prospect of justice. The Stormont House Agreement makes clear that this will be an independent body.
“The Independent Commission for Information Retrieval, to be established by the two Governments, is intended to allow individuals to seek information about troubles related deaths where there is no realistic prospect of prosecution; information provided to the Commission for this purpose would not be admissible in court.
“In addition, an Oral History Archive will be established. These bodies will be overseen by an Implementation and Reconciliation Group, with a mandate to promote reconciliation, a better understanding of the past and to reduce sectarianism.
“I believe that taken together these four mechanisms provide an opportunity to deal with the legacy of the Troubles in a way which upholds the rule of law and facilitates justice, acknowledges and addresses the needs of victims and survivors, is human rights compliant, and above all promotes reconciliation.
“It is now crucial that the work started by the Stormont House Agreement on establishing these institutions is completed and this is one of the central objectives of the current round table talks involving the five main Northern Ireland parties and the British and Irish Governments.
“For these institutions to function effectively, it is vitally important that they have public trust and confidence. This is why I have placed the principle of independence at the centre of the Government’s approach to the establishment of the institutions. I agree that public consultation on the establishment of the institutions is also important in this regard.
“The majority of the commitments in the Stormont House Agreement, including those related to the past, pertain to matters within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and are the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive. However, in order to expedite the establishment of the legacy institutions, the British Government has agreed to bring forward the required legislation in Westminster. It is therefore the responsibility of the British Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to consider the question of a public consultation within its jurisdiction.
“In regard to legislating within this jurisdiction to fulfil the commitments of the Irish Government under the Stormont House Agreement, the normal parliamentary process and scrutiny will of course apply. I and my colleagues in Government have a very open dialogue with families and victims and survivors groups. Issues relating to the new legacy institutions have been discussed with them on a number of occasions and this has helped guide the Government’s approach. We will of course continue this active engagement in the context of bringing forward the required domestic legislation to establish and cooperate with the new legacy institutions.”
However, 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.