NI: Victims and survivors ‘let down’ by NI parties deal
Victims’ and survivors’ groups and human rights organisations have hit out at the agreement struck by the main Northern Ireland political parties for failing to address legacy issues.
A Fresh Start: the Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan is the outcome of ten weeks of intense talks between the five largest NI parties, facilitated by the Irish and British governments and aimed at breaking the political dead-lock in Northern Ireland.
However, the failure to reach agreement over legacy issues is “a bitter pill for victims and survivors to swallow”, according to Judith Thompson, Commissioner for Victims and Survivors.
The establishment of a new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) was included in last year’s Stormont House Agreement, which has been effectively superseded by the “Fresh Start” plans.
Ms Thompson said: “We acknowledge that the proposed institutions need to be set up in the most victim centred way and major issues like national security need to be resolved if victims are to have any trust and confidence in the work of the HIU.
“But once again it is those who have suffered the most and compromised the most to build a better future in Northern Ireland who are still left wondering if, and when, they will ever get the opportunity for acknowledgement, truth, justice and some form of reparation for the pain and suffering they have endured.
“It is essential that the Northern Ireland Executive and the parties make the time in the next few days to explain their respective positions to Victims and Survivors and to give some timescale for when they expect to make significant progress on the issues that are being put in the ‘too difficult’ box once again.”
She added: “It is not good enough to build up hopes for the most comprehensive set of proposals yet to address Victims’ and Survivors’ needs and then fail to deliver. They deserve respect and consideration and they cannot be shunted off into a dead end while time effectively runs out for so many.”
Human rights organisation Amnesty International said the Irish and British governments are “legally and morally obliged” to deal with the issue.
Agreement on structures to address legacy issues could not be achieved after purported conflict on proposals that national security interests should be considered by the UK government in deciding whether to disclose information to victims.
Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director at Amnesty International, said the lack of agreement was “a further let-down for victims who’ve been failed repeatedly for decades”.
He added: “Victims’ rights to truth and justice, and the international legal obligation of the UK government to fulfil those rights, are not going away and are more urgent than ever today.
“The UK government’s insistence on retaining a ‘national security’ veto on disclosure was reportedly the stumbling block. Wide claims of national security should not get in the way of victims getting to the truth about abuses they have suffered. National security concerns should only be used to save lives, and should not be trotted out to save face.
“As guarantors of peace in Northern Ireland, the two governments must urgently finish the job started at Stormont House last year. They are legally and morally obliged to do so.”