Doug Beattie: New Decade deal ‘short circuits’ Stormont House Agreement legacy consultation

The government appears to have “short-circuited” the normal legislative process with the latest Stormont deal and should publish the full results of a public consultation on legacy in the interests of openness and transparency, it is claimed.

Tuesday, 14th January 2020, 6:30 am
Updated Thursday, 16th January 2020, 10:02 am
Panic at Oxford Street bus station on Bloody Friday, July 21, 1972. Twenty IRA bombs across Belfast killed nine people in 75 minutes and left some 130 mutilated. Photo: Stanley Matchett.

UUP Justice Spokesman Doug Beattie was speaking after the publication of the New Decade, New Approach deal last week, which incorporates the controversial 2014 Stormont House Agreement (SHA). The SHA public consultation opened in May 2018 but to date only a summary of submissions have been published.

Mr Beattie said: “The Government does indeed appear to have short circuited the normal legislative process and disregarded the strength of opposition to elements of SHA, particularly the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU).

“Of course the results of the consultation should be published so that public and politicians alike can see in an open and transparent way, what the results actually are. There has already been too much sleight of hand.”

UUP Justice Spokesman Doug Beattie says the government's approach to legacy through the Stormont House Agreement appears to have short circuited the normal legislation process.

He said the current statutory definition of a victim, which critics say equates perpetrators with their victims, should still be changed, but he was unaware of any commitment to do so in the wake of the new deal.

His party’s opposition to SHA, he said, was on the basis of the “unfairness and imbalance” – with state culpability as “the central aim of the HIU”.

It was “somewhat ironic” to hear Simon Coveney say the aim is about finding out the truth and not apportioning blame, he said, given that the Republic of Ireland has “steadfastly refused” to state what it knows about the “hundreds” of terrorist operations launched from the south, or Garda collusion, he added.

Mr Beattie said the SHA has a new offence of ‘non-criminal police misconduct’ which is the “most obvious clue as to who the real target of the HIU and this whole investigatory process is to be”. He had no idea if ex-RUC officers would have a proper opportunity to defend themselves from allegations, he added.

But Daniel Holder, Deputy Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, said the consultation summary published showed “broad support for the SHA institutions”. There were calls from across the board for amendment to some elements, such as giving greater freedom for the HIU to say which cases fall within its remit, he said, but he expects the SHA to be amended accordingly.

The question of the definition of a victim “does not arise” he said, and proposed alternatives were not acceptable because they would “remove almost all victims of the state from the definition of a victim, including for example, a child killed by a plastic bullet”.

Mr Holder could not say it was fair of critics, such as Dr Cillian McGrattan, to say the ‘transitional justice’ foundation of the SHA was with the rehabilitation of Latin American regimes, and that SHA thus similarly assumes the state was the primary cause of the Troubles. He had not seen any such criticism and was “not sure how that connection has been made,” he added.

Mr Holder added that it was “entirely wrong” to suggest the SHA creates a ‘new offence’ of “non-criminal Police misconduct”.

The HIU will investigate only alleged “grave” and “exceptional” RUC misconduct that relates to someone being killed, just as the Police Ombudsman does, he said, and ex-RUC officers will have a full opportunity to defend themselves from allegations.