Relatives of those killed by British state forces in Derry have hit out at the lack of progress of finding agreement on dealing with the past.
Victims’ commissioner Judith Thompson has said that talks between political parties to deal with outstanding issues on the legacy of the ‘Troubles’ need to start as soon as possible. Talks aimed at implementing the Stormont House Agreement ended last month without finding a way forward on the issue.
“What was being developed at the very, very close of those talks was a move towards some sort of judicial model where the director of that new HIU (Historical Investigations Unit), if they felt that national security was being used as an excuse to cover up things which were uncomfortable rather than security sensitive, then they could go through judicial process,” she said.
Now, Kate and Linda Nash, whose brother was shot dead on Bloody Sunday and Helen Deery whose 15-year-old brother was also shot dead by the British Army have lambasted not only the lack of progress but also what they claim has been a lack of consultation with regard to a way forward for victims.
In a statement released to the ‘Journal’ they said: In August of this year we became acquainted with legacy aspects of the Stormont House Agreement which was announced on December 23, 2014. The architects of this agreement included the five main Stormont parties in conjunction with the British and Irish governments.
“Like ourselves many victims hoped this agreement would bring closure and that the content would be the subject of a robust and comprehensive consultation. Sadly this was not the case with engagement around the issues restricted to a select few, inclusive of representatives from recognised victims groups who were on record as being supportive of the Stormont House Agreement despite us pointing out flaws based on the limited information we had access to.
“Recognising a clear void in the process we set about trying to rectify the situation. We began by highlighting the need to engage with all victims including independent victims (who choose not to be represented by any group) who make up the majority percentage of the victim population. Another primary focus for us was to expose how these proposals were of more benefit to the state than to victims on all sides as is evident through the national security veto.
“The national security card has no limits and permits the Secretary of State to veto information the state chooses to withhold. The use of the national security card coupled with the ‘good relations’ card will see that people including the proposed investigatory body (HIU) get very little in terms of the truth particularly in cases with state involvement as was also apparent with the discredited HET.
“In a recent interview the British Secretary of State announced plans which would allow victims a direct right of appeal to the high court to challenge cases of non-disclosure. At this juncture details of this process remain sketchy including the matter of how costs would be met, or what format the process would take. A few years ago Michael Bridge one of the Bloody Sunday wounded was refused legal aid to challenge the soldier suspected of shooting him. With this in mind we must question whether this direct right of appeal to the High Court will be funded particularly with increasing cuts to the legal aid budget or will cost be a further impediment for those of us seeking justice?
“The past few days have shown an increase in publicity around the need to deal with the past including a statement from the Chief Constable and coverage in the BBC Spotlight programme as well as a costly full page advertisement from victims groups supportive of the Stormont House Agreement. In the advertisement which took the form of an open letter to the Secretary of State the authors from the Pat Finucane Centre and Justice For The Forgotten stated:
“Your government promised full disclosure of documents to an independent investigatory mechanism, the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU)”.
“Whilst this statement is correct a cursory glance at the second sentence in section 37 shows that things were not as clear cut as is now being suggested.
“The second sentence states: ‘In order to ensure that no individuals are put at risk, and that the Government’s duty to keep people safe and secure is upheld, Westminster legislation will provide for equivalent measures to those that currently apply to existing bodies so as to prevent any damaging onward disclosure of information by the HIU.’
“This sentence shows the recent belated outbursts and face saving exercises are hypocritical when from the outset it was clear that national security was always going to be a stumbling block with it continually used as a cloak of secrecy in both cases past and present.
“Added to the recent upsurge in movement over the need to deal with the past we have received responses to correspondence sent months ago to the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and to the British Secretary of State Theresa Villiers. These responses would appear be the product of delayed, yet carefully choreographed collaboration and yet a further hint that moves are on to legislate on the past in the absence of a full consultation. We have requested to meet with the Secretary of State to discuss our concerns however it would seem that this privilege continues to be reserved for the select few.
“This entire scenario begs the question how are victims supposed to have any confidence in a process where there is no openness, honesty or transparency?
“We finish with a note to Secretary of State-when you do not include victims keen to be party to your discussions then by definition you exclude them, in basic terms when we are not in, we are out. So much for no hierarchy of victims.”