Dealing with the legacy of the past remains one of the key outstanding challenges of our peace process.
Unless it is dealt with in a comprehensive and acceptable manner then the essential process of healing and reconciliation cannot gain momentum. The main obstacle to effectively dealing with the past has been, and remains, the abject failure of the British Government to honour its international obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights through NOT facilitating effective, independent and prompt investigations into killings by state agencies and their failure to adequately resource legacy investigations and inquests.
Over eight months ago the Lord Chief Justice outlined a five-year plan to deal with the backlog in legacy inquests. The British government to date has not responded positively. This has triggered great frustration and anger among families, many of whom have been waiting more than 44 years for an Article 2 compliant investigation into the death of their loved ones. I am fully supportive of the Lord Chief Justice’s proposals.
It is incredulous that this request from the foremost legal officer has been ignored. This is an untenable and unsustainable position that is undermining the confidence of bereaved families in the rule of law and the administration of justice.
Instead of working constructively to address the hurt and pain caused by the legacy of our recent conflict, the British Government has, at every turn, blocked and frustrated all efforts to reach a resolution. In doing so they have compounded the suffering of victims and survivors and added insult to injury.
We have had a number of frustrating and unsuccessful negotiations on legacy followed by a series of critical reports and comments by internationally renowned human rights bodies and individuals. The latest report from the UN Special Rapporteur Pablo de Greiff is a strong indictment of Britain’s handling of the past.
In his report, Pablo de Greiff highlights the punitive nature of Britain’s policy in Ireland, while highlighting the use of ‘national security’ in a ‘blanket’ manner, with the clear aim of stalling and eventually blocking relevant onward disclosure to families of victims.
Neither the British government, or indeed any of the parties to the conflict, can claim the position of ‘neutral arbiters’ of the conflict. This places a requirement on the British Government to guarantee through the legislative process, both the reality and the perception of genuine independence and impartiality for all legacy mechanisms agreed at Stormont House, in a human rights compliant manner.
It also places a requirement on Republicans to play their part in addressing the challenges that lie ahead. For our part, Sinn Fein have shown a willingness to recognise our responsibilities around legacy and will continue to do so in the context of the emergence of independent, human rights compliant mechanisms.
A number of families have now been waiting for more than 40 years to find out what happened to their loved ones. Already too many relatives have gone to their graves without answers and the campaigns have passed to another generation. This is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.
The conflict has left deep scars in our society, impacting on all traditions and political persuasions. The hurt and pain must not be transmitted to another generation. The British Government and its armed agencies played an active role in the conflict here, and were not passive peacekeepers as they attempt to portray internationally. It has a duty and a responsibility to play a major role in any resolution. Delay and prevarication must give way to positive action by the British Government through the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement legacy mechanisms in a human rights compliant manner. International obligations must be honoured through the provision of adequate resources, relevant disclosure and the granting, through legislation, of a genuine independent status for all key legacy mechanisms.