Northern Ireland

NI Troubles legacy plan gets frosty response

The Northern Ireland Office has published a summary of responses to a consultation on proposals put forward by the Consultative Group on the Past.

The group sparked controversy when it suggested paying £12,000 to all the families of victims of violence, including paramilitaries.

Former Secretary of State Shaun Woodward ruled out such a payment.

Out of 174 people who responded to the report, most rejected it in its entirety without comment.

The consultation also received 72 responses from organisations, political parties, academics and medical experts.

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson called the report "an important contribution to the debate on the past".

"I am committed to listening to the views of people from across the community in Northern Ireland on the role I can play on this important issue.

"I hope that publishing this summary of responses to the consultation demonstrates the transparent and measured approach I intend to take."

The Consultative Group on the Past was co-chaired by Lord Eames and Denis Bradley.

Among the 31 proposals included in its January 2009 report was the idea of a legacy commission headed by an international figure.

The group said such a commission would take over the work currently carried out by the Police Ombudsman, which investigates complaints against the police, and the Historical Enquiries Team, a specialist police unit set up to investigate unsolved killings throughout the Troubles.

Of the organisations that gave a clear view on the recommendation, 22 supported it while 15 opposed it. Out of the 174 individual responses, 165 were against the proposal.

In the summary of responses, it says those who were in favour of a legacy commission "generally welcomed the principles underpinning the idea and the broad objectives of working towards peace and stability in Northern Ireland".

"On a more specific level there was support for the integrated approach which would combine functions that, in the view of academic Dr Patricia Lundy, were currently 'piecemeal and fragmented'.

"The Alliance Party expressed the view that the Legacy Commission should be at the centre of future structures."

It said a variety of different reasons were given in opposition to the idea.

The potential for the commission to focus disproportionately on state forces was commonly cited by those who rejected the proposal.

"The Ulster Unionist Party, for example, described the proposal as a 'one-sided truth commission'.

"Many respondents also felt that combining the justice process with information and reconciliation functions would undermine the pursuit of justice.

"The Democratic Unionist Party noted that justice is 'integral to our constitution' whilst the Traditional Unionist Voice argued that the commission would be likely to 'become a vehicle which will prevent innocent families having their day in court'."

Sinn Fein instead called for the setting up of an 'independent International Truth Commission' to be funded by an external body such as the UN.

Some organisations, such as Falls Road-based victims group Relatives for Justice, felt the proposed legacy commission would not be sufficiently independent.

'Overburdened'

It argued "patterns of abuse" by the state would be "suppressed in the wider interests of "reconciliation" and "moving society forward".

Other submissions to the consultation argued the commission would represent a bureaucratic 'top-down' approach to dealing with the past.

The report said there was a feeling among many respondents that "Northern Ireland could become overburdened by bodies addressing the Troubles".

Some respondents argued for the need to maintain existing structures with increased funding.

The SDLP proposed a "reworking of current arrangements" to include merging the Historical Enquiries Team and Police Ombudsman in an independent body, and a remodelled Community Relations Council with responsibility for the proposed Victims and Survivors Service.

Both the PSNI and the Rural Community Network suggested a stand-alone International Commissioner to be created without a full supporting Commission.

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