Following growing concern from Victims and Survivors, church leaders and academics the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors has called on the Northern Ireland office to urgently publish the details of their proposed Legacy Legislation.
The Secretary of State’s written Ministerial statement appeared to signal a change of direction from the Stormont House Agreement yet notably the detail of his proposals is absent.
A response I received today from the Minister’s office said the Government believes that their proposals stay true to the pillars of the Stormont House Agreement and that they maintain an article two compliant process.
However in his written ministerial statement on 18 March the Secretary of State said that “Significant changes will be needed to obtain a broad consensus for the implementation of any legislation.”
Whilst I welcome the acknowledgement that the current system is not working for anyone and most particularly not working for victims and survivors, the recent paper from Queens University (whilst highlighting the absence of detail) sets out starkly the likelihood that what is proposed would be subject to legal challenge and would lose.
The consequence of this for the families of those directly affected who have lost people they love across Northern Ireland and beyond, as well as for those being investigated, will be further frustration, uncertainty, hurt and harm as they see ongoing legal challenge and the failure of a process that was meant to bring resolution. And at a societal level this will continue to perpetuate harm, distrust and division.
What is critically important is that whatever course of action the Government chooses to follow, it does not consider lengthy, expensive and mentally draining legal challenges as a price worth paying for short-term political gains.
The aim of addressing the legacy of the past must be to build a better future.
It is vital that those who have waited so long for Legacy institutions that have had the widest possible consultation and input, are not simply swept aside in haste to drive through options that will result in yet more decades of legal challenge, hurt, frustration and distrust.
We have the opportunity to much better than this. As the Commission advised in our submission to Government, the combined impact of any final package of measures should be to offer what is achievable in terms of truth, justice, acknowledgement and reparation to people who were harmed and to do this in a way that is victim-centred and respectful, always, of everyone’s suffering.
For further information contact Sheila Davidson 077857 93672.