Over the past number of weeks I have been supporting a range of victims of the troubles who have been highlighting the inadequacy of elements within the Stormont House Agreement set to deal with the North's 'dirty past'.
To say this has been a difficult time for victims would be an understatement. During this time I have witnessed victims being demonised and dismissed for raising concerns over what they have found to be a closed and flawed process.
This process was deliberately flawed from the outset in that there was no legislation available for public consumption and closed with many actual victims excluded from so called 'stakeholder meetings' in favour of a brigade of nodding dogs who attempted to give this farce a veneer of respectability.
In recent days the draft legislation has been leaked to the public proving that victims had every right to be concerned. Many victims such as the Nash sisters and Helen Deery who have been at the forefront of this current campaign have fought for justice for their loved ones for decades. In the case of Bloody Sunday murder victim William Nash, brother of Kate & Linda Nash, this deal was announced and supported by Stormont politicians on December 23rd on what would have been his 62nd birthday.
Having read through this draft it is clear that this legislation to deal with our past is weighted firmly in favour of the British state, its military and its institutions. There is no disputing the need for a proper investigatory unit however the proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) is not independent and its powers are tokenistic at best.
The HIU can be dissolved by the British Secretary of State at his or her discretion. The HIU's director can be 'resigned or retired' by none other than tweedle dee and tweedle dum, the First and Deputy First Ministers. Considering the track record of these two comedians in being open and transparent I wouldn't hold out any hope of any tangible or realistic progress being made that would provide for the needs of victims.
The proposed legislation does not prohibit the HIU from recruiting those who have previously served in policing or security roles in Northern Ireland. The potential inclusion of those who held security positions in the north during the period of the conflict is an utter fiasco. With the level of alleged collusion between security services and paramilitaries not to mention the possible input of those from the discredited HET these proposals are akin to former members of the Nazi party being central to the investigations which led to prosecutions at the Nuremberg trials.
In respect of information disclosure the Secretary of State has the power to veto information both locally and internationally on the basis of good working relations and on the grounds of national security, which is nothing but a limitless cloak of secrecy. Considering the efforts over the years by the British State to cover its dirty dealings and questionable role in the conflict here I would hazard a guess that the British Secretary of State would be like a duracell bunny on speed with her 'National Security' stamp.
With the leaked legislation relating mostly to the HIU we must also remember the related proposals:
The Independent Commission for Information Retrieval is hoped to accommodate families requesting the truth about what happened to their loved ones. This mechanism offers immunity to those who provide information on crimes committed, free from interrogation and cross examination. In return the families will get to hear what happened to their loved ones yet will not be told the names of those responsible. One victim believes that this scant information will cause families further anguish and distress. Whilst contributors to this process are immune from prosecution they can be convicted should evidence arise during criminal investigations or from another source.
We then have the Oral History Archive and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group would appear to have been concocted to revise, and mop up the residue of our dirty past in an effort to preserve what has been perfectly described as a dirty peace.
A pertinent question which needs to be asked is who stands to benefit most from this?Would it be the members of the paramilitary groups who if convicted of a pre-1998 offence will serve 2 years under the Good Friday Agreement, or would it be the Government Ministers and agencies who ran agents inside paramilitary groups? Agents such as loyalist Mark Haddock who has been implicated in multiple murders and the Glenanne gang in Mid Ulster who murdered men, women and children indiscriminately. And not forgetting the agents on the 'republican' side such as Stakeknife who tortured and murdered as his handlers turned a blind eye.
What I have found most bizarre about this whole scenario is the vitriol from representatives of some of the supposedly 'independent' human rights and victims groups towards those who have voiced concerns over the Stormont House Agreement. It would be fair to say that some of these groups have been more vociferous in their defence of the proposals than the politicians have been. Well, until today when we had a huge outbreak of back pedaling from some politicians and victims groups who had a complete volte-face and are now actually raising similar concerns that victims have been raising over the past number of weeks.
During these weeks the director of Relatives for Justice, Mark Thompson claimed in an article there was an element of 'manufactured indignation' from those who raised concerns about proposals. When challenged at a meeting in Stormont over his comments Mr Thompson stated he stood by his comments, but that he had only been referring to two victims.
The chairperson of the Pat Finucane Centre, Robin Percival, accused people of spreading of misinformation, although who he was referring to remains a mystery. What's an even bigger mystery is who removed Robin's comments from the Pat Finucane Centre Facebook page? Either Robin caught himself on and realised he was talking out of his backside or someone within the organisation he is Chairperson of realised he was talking out of his ass and censored him. Or maybe, just maybe, it was anti-peace process dissident securocrats who removed the comments at the behest of the British Secretary of State. We might just never know.
Someone should take time remind these rights respecting stalwarts that people have a right to raise concerns no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable the conversations and that this right is protected under the European Convention. And that if people wish to raise concerns they should be able to do so without being lambasted. There has been talk from some quarters that these groups didn't want to rock the boat with certain funding bodies, but that's another story for another day.
Following the publication of the leaked legislation as I alluded to earlier some Stormont Politicians have changed their position. When you consider these politicians have had the legislation since Monday 29th September why it only became contentious after it was leaked to the public is anyone's guess. The more cynical side of me would say that these dimwits who are running the show have been caught out and are now pointing the finger of blame at the big bad Tories. These politicians are members of the five main parties who did not want public consultation or scrutiny at Stormont level. They instead agreed that the legislation would be passed to Westminster where it would pass through by way of Statutory instrument. This would have allowed the parties to play the blame game at a later stage as was witnessed with the 'on the runs' scheme following the collapse of the John Downey case.
In closing one of the principles of the proposed legislation is: That the suffering of victims and survivors should be acknowledged.
Acknowledgement is no substitute for justice.