Commissioner: We need political will to deal with the past properly

Approaching the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement we still don't have an effective system to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

What little we do have is overwhelmed and underfunded with up to 2,000 uninvestigated murders - 298 security force deaths and 230 people killed by the Army are part of that number.

The Lord Chief Justice has 45 historical inquests still unheard and the prospect is now a wait of up to 20 more years, with grieving families still waiting to know what happened in the death of their relative.

Behind all the calls to draw a line under legacy issues or give a general amnesty to all participants in the deaths, are families who have a legal right to an investigation into what happened and we have a deep-rooted moral obligation to deliver on those rights.

Next Monday, James Brokenshire is meeting the Victims & Survivors Forum and the clear message to the Secretary of State is to proceed now to a consultation process on legislation that will implement the proposed institutions that will give choices and options to families of the bereaved and injured. This will include a Historical Investigation Unit, an Information Retrieval Unit and an Oral History Archive.

These all require Westminster legislation and do not depend on a sitting Assembly.

What it does not include is a pension for the seriously injured and a co-ordinated Mental Trauma Service, which are devolved matters and are currently with the Assembly.

As the Police Ombudsman has pointed out in the BBC Spotlight programme we need to be honest with victims and survivors.

Either we have the political will to put the resources into the institutions that will deal with the past or admit that they are not a priority.

The message from the Victims & Survivors Forum strongly echoes that view. Their position is that it is not acceptable to use victims and survivors as a political football. Neither is it acceptable to starve them of the resources necessary to get the answers to which they are legally entitled.

No group of people want to see a line drawn under the past more than victims and survivors, but no group is more informed in their view that unless as a society we take this issue seriously, we are in real danger of repeating the mistakes of the past.

This article was published in the Belfast Telegraph of 20th September 2017.