Westminster group urges Bradley to draw a line under Northern Ireland’s past
A cross-party group of Westminster politicians, including four former Northern Ireland secretaries, have urged Karen Bradley to draw a line under the region’s past.
As Northern Ireland’s current Secretary of State considers a £150 million plan to deal with the past, Lord Hain and seven other signatories advised prioritising compensation for victims over investigation.
The consultation document, Addressing The Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past, includes a proposal for a Historical Investigations Unit to continue outstanding investigations into Troubles-related deaths.
Speaking to the Press Association, Lord Hain said that while they were proposing a line be drawn under the past, they were not proposing an amnesty.
He added they would not oppose the pursuit of a case if significant new evidence emerged.
Instead, Lord Hain emphasised they wanted victim support to be resourced, not “costly investigations that on past evidence would not deliver justice for victims”.
The signatories include Lord King, the Tory Northern Ireland secretary from 1985 to 1989, Labour’s Lord Reid, who held the post in 2000-01, shortly after the signing of the Belfast Agreement, Lord Murphy (2002-05) and Lord Hain (2005-07) as well as former Northern Ireland Office minister Lord Browne.
The group also includes former Church of Ireland primate Lord Eames, who co-authored a report on dealing with the past in 2008, Lord Patten, who oversaw the creation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and former Northern Ireland Affairs Committee chairman Lord Cormack.
The letter says only a small number of investigations into the past yield prosecutions, and claims that of the 1,615 cases the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) investigated, just three resulted in prosecutions.
“We understand why many victims and others attach great importance to the prosecution, conviction and sentencing of those responsible for the appalling loss they have suffered,” they write.
“But experience suggests that it would be a mistake to expect judicial outcome in any but a tiny percentage of the crimes that have not already been dealt with.”
The past has been one of the sticking points between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein through several rounds of failed talks to agree the return of powersharing at Stormont.
The pursuit of former soldiers has also sparked outrage among the veterans community, particularly following the arrest of pensioner Dennis Hutchings.
The 77-year-old from Cornwall is set to face trial for attempted murder over the fatal shooting of John Pat Cunningham, 27, in Co Tyrone in 1974.
Prosecutors are also reportedly considering charging 18 British soldiers over involvement in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry.
Lord Hain’s letter on behalf of the group said past cases must be treated in an “absolutely even-handed manner”.
“We note that currently prosecutions are being considered for former members of the armed forces – perhaps because records and information are more readily available – but none so far as we can establish for paramilitaries,” they wrote.
“That cannot be right.
“We believe that it is essential to treat past cases in an absolutely even-handed manner.
“That also means former military personnel cannot be exempt (as some are suggesting) while other former combatants, either loyalist or republican, are pursued.
“All in all, we are reinforced in our judgment that the priority is surely now to resource victims, not investigations that have little or no likelihood of either prosecution or alternative closure satisfactory to victims.”