Throughout the past few weeks, there has been a high volume of media coverage relating to both the lack of agreement between the two main political parties in Northern Ireland following the most recent talks process, and the impact this has on Legacy issues.
Whilst it is regrettable that Northern Ireland sees itself in a prolonged state of political uncertainty, my role, and the purpose of the Commission is primarily to promote the views of victims and survivors and to ensure that their voices are heard; it would therefore be a huge disservice to those I represent not to express their anger and frustration felt by the continued delay in the launch of the Legacy Consultation and in implementing the Legacy Mechanisms outlined in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.
Since October 2017, the Victims and Survivors Forum and I have met with leaders from the five main political parties in Northern Ireland and the British and Irish Governments. During these engagements, we have demonstrated patience and understanding to changes of office, we have allowed the talks process to run its course in the belief that an Executive being in place is the best environment to proceed. However, whilst that remains the preference, we find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of it seeming unlikely and therefore want to see progress by whatever means possible.
To clarify the position Northern Ireland now finds itself in in relation to victims and survivors’ issues, there are three main areas directly affected by the political impasse; The Legacy bodies, namely the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), Oral History Archive (OHA), Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR) and Implementation and Reconciliation Group(IRG), a Pension for the Severely Injured and the Regional Trauma Network (RTN).
With regards to Legacy bodies, these have draft legislation in place which is Westminster legislation meaning this element of the Stormont House Agreement can be progressed instantaneously. The IRG is an evidence base of themes emerging from these bodies and again can proceed without an Assembly but is dependent on successful the set-up and implementation of said organisations. We would therefore urge the Secretary of State to demonstrate her commitment to their implementation by making it time-bound. Likewise we would ask that she proposes measures to launch the Legacy Consultation whilst omitting the proposed Statute of Limitations.
No draft legislation currently exists for a pension and as it stands, this is deemed a devolved matter. The Commission submitted its Pension advice to Ministers in 2014 and we have seen little progress since then. While this remains the case, we are seeing an aging demographic of seriously injured people face a very uncertain future and undetermined timeframes are not a luxury they can afford, nor should we as a society expect them to.
Whilst no new legislation is required for the RTN and it is currently being established, it requires significantly increased resource to meet the commitments set out in Stormont House Agreement.
Furthermore, I would like to echo the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan’s statement when he called for a process to deal with legacy inquests that it is "very difficult to see how ordinary people can be expected to wait much longer." We at the Commission are of the same opinion and would impress upon the British government the need to release this funding.
Despite the politicisation that some of these issues will undergo, the fact remains that failure to act is to further harm and distress victims and survivors. I have requested a follow-up conversation with the Secretary of State and once again will engage with the main political parties. During this round of engagement, I will be relaying these key messages, requesting a time-bound commitments and asking how the Commission can support the progression of Legacy matters.