Thursday, September 10, 2015

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Stormont Victims Whitewash

The Diary Of A Derry Mother features a statement from Helen Deery, Kate Nash & Linda Nash. 
 
 
A statement following on from our meeting in Derry on August 26th where we raised the issue of ambiguity around proposals to deal with the past as part of the Stormont House Agreement.

We have in the past few days requested to meet with Justice Minister David Ford in order to have our concerns addressed. This comes as legislation on dealing with the past is expected to go before Westminster as early as September/October of this year and to go straight through parliament by way of Statutory instrument. That this is expected to go through in the next few weeks has caused considerable concern in the absence of an official draft bill being made available for public scrutiny.

In early August we requested a copy of the draft bill under Freedom of Information legislation, in response the DOJ stated:
The information that you have requested is not currently in a final format, and is only partially complete.

However on May 18th when responding to an assembly question on the progress of the Stormont House agreement Justice Minister David Ford stated that the legislation being drafted was; “at an advanced stage and I expect the Bill to be introduced in Parliament in the autumn”. With the level of conflicting information being disseminated a question that must be asked is, did David Ford mislead the house in May when he said that the legislation was at an advanced stage? If not then why is the DOJ now stating that the legislation is “only partially complete?”

On 7th September the Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan made the following comment during his speech to mark the opening of the new legal year:
 
While I am keen to provide leadership in respect of legacy cases, there remain many factors outside my control which need to be resolved for us to have confidence that these cases can move forward within a reasonable time-frame.

 
In the absence of draft legislation it is very difficult to have any confidence in this process. We have since written to Justice Morgan urging him to use his influence and that of his office to ensure that outstanding issues are resolved and to impress upon David Ford the need to meet with victims and victims' families, particularly those with questions and concerns.

Here are some of the questions we intend to raise with David Ford:

With County Court judges being assigned to hear inquests into troubles related killings is there any evidence to suggest that this system will be more effective than the last?

In October 2013 retired NI police officers said they would not encourage members to engage with the Police Ombudsman on certain investigations following the case of the 1988 Good Samaritan bombing. This despite the Ombudsman's office being a lawful mechanism for investigating criminality and the misconduct of police officers. With the HIU set to take on the responsibilities of the Police Ombudsman can retired officers still refuse to engage an therefore impede HIU investigations? Can members of the British military too refuse to cooperate?

Will all ongoing police investigations into troubles related deaths be passed to the Historical Investigations Unit, keeping in mind that this unit is said to have a lifespan of five years?

In an article written by Daniel Holder (CAJ) in January of this year he stated:
the HIU, which would take on the unfinished conflict-related cases from the HET and Police Ombudsman, as well as other cases where new evidence emerges. This includes past HET cases deemed as ‘requiring re-examination’ due to flaws in the original review.

 
Yet in a Facebook post from members of the Bloody Sunday Trust on August 5th following their attendance at a 'stakeholder workshop' organised by the Department of Justice, it was claimed that the ongoing police investigation into Bloody Sunday would be 'transferred and completed by the HIU'.

With conflicting information on the role, remit and responsibilities of the HIU when will Minister Ford be able to provide victims and the wider public with appropriate and reliable information, including information on who will staff the HIU?

In May of this year Alliance Party MLA Trevor Lunn said the “PSNI have confirmed that it will take two years to train up officers”. Yet in response to an assembly question in May on the Progress of the Stormont House agreement Justice Minister David Ford stated; “My intention is to establish the HIU by summer 2016 and for it to be operational by the autumn of next year”.

Given the disparity in terms of the time frame involved victims and their families are questioning if HIU staff will be independent of former HET, RUC and PSNI personnel given their previous involvement in such cases. Ultimately, we are also questioning if this new unit will be sufficiently independent to carry out effective and credible investigations?

As victims' family members all we ask is for meaningful engagement on these issues and that the draft legislation be made available for public scrutiny. It is time for those in Government to prove that there is no hierarchy of victims. Anything less further besmirches the memory of our loved ones.


Kate Nash
Linda Nash
Helen Deery

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