UN Special Rapporteur: Discussions

Oral Answers to Questions — Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 23rd November 2015.

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Photo of Bronwyn McGahan Bronwyn McGahan Sinn Féin 2:00 pm, 23rd November 2015

1. Ms McGahan asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister to outline any discussions they have had with the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. (AQO 9128/11-16)

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will ask junior Minister Mrs Emma Pengelly to answer that question.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly DUP

Officials from our Department met Pablo de Greiff, the UN special rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence on 11 November 2015. The purpose of the visit was to offer an objective assessment of the various initiatives undertaken to deal with the legacies of the Troubles. Discussions focused on the holistic approach being taken to improve services for victims and survivors here. Those focused on the victim support and individual needs programmes and our Department's ongoing collaborative design programme, which we have undertaken in conjunction with the Commission for Victims and Survivors and the Victims and Survivors Service. The programme aims to ensure a level of service provision that better meets the needs of victims and survivors.

The significant progress made by the programme, and the positive feedback received to date, was discussed, along with key strands of work being taken forward under the Stormont House Agreement in relation to advocacy, a pension for those severely physically injured and the establishment of a mental trauma service. The implementation of the Together: Building a United Community strategy was also discussed. Those discussions included the recently published good relations indicators and the application of an outcome-based approach to monitoring and evaluation. Mr de Greiff will now prepare a report on his findings from the visit, which will be presented to the Human Rights Council in September 2016. Our Department will give his advice and recommendations due consideration.

Photo of Bronwyn McGahan Bronwyn McGahan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat. I thank the Minister for her response. I want to take this opportunity to wish you all the best in your new role. Considering that the special rapporteur acknowledged in his preliminary recommendations that it is easy to use national security as a blanket term, what steps will be taken to establish mechanisms for dealing with the past that deliver the full disclosure of truth that victims and families deserve?

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly DUP

As the Member will be aware, the issue of national security was the subject of considerable discussion throughout the recent talks process. In all those issues, there is a matter of compromise to be had. On one hand, families want access to truth and information. In particular, many hundreds of families have contacted me and the Office of the First Minister in relation to their quest for justice. However, on the other side of that, there need to be protections in relation to national security. Just this week it has become clear that at least seven attempted attacks across the UK this year alone have been foiled by our security and intelligence services. Therefore, the techniques deployed need to be protected. All citizens across the United Kingdom need to have the protections afforded by the national security protections at a state level, so a compromise does need to be reached, but it has to go both ways.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker

I call Mr Edwin Poots. Edwin? We will move on. I call Mr Alec Attwood.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I wish the First Minister good health and good times whenever he decides to depart from this place.

On Friday afternoon, the new leader of the SDLP, Colum Eastwood, wrote to the British Government and copied the Irish Government, recommending that the revised draft legacy Bill that, no doubt, the British Government have in their possession should be published, not least to inform victims and survivors in a way that they may not have been informed since Stormont House. Given the comments of the First Minister on Friday evening, do the First Minister and junior Minister endorse the recommendation that the leader of the SDLP put to the Secretary of State?

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly DUP

The Member will be very much aware of the position of the Office of the First Minister on the matter. The First Minister recently made clear during the talks process that the DUP supported the proposition by the British and Irish Governments that the entire legacy section should be made available to victims and survivors, and, in addition, that the very substantive piece of legislation drafted at Westminster on behalf of the parties here should be published.

Photo of Adrian Cochrane-Watson Adrian Cochrane-Watson UUP

I also wish the First Minister every success in the future after he decides to stand down formally.

Does the junior Minister agree that, to ensure that there is no recurrence, not just the state but groups have to be honest about their actions and the consequences of those actions?

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly DUP

Absolutely. We have made it very clear throughout the process that victims deserve justice and truth. It is very sad that victims have had to wait so long to get that justice and truth. However, throughout the process — in fact, throughout not just this process but the Stormont House negotiations last Christmas and the Haass negotiations — the Office of the First Minister has been absolutely at the forefront of fighting for justice and truth for victims and survivors. Across the House, I think that we support calls for those who have information on any event or act of terrorism in the past to come forward and tell people what information they have and, importantly, tell the PSNI, in order to allow victims and survivors to get the closure and justice that they rightly deserve.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I join in wishing the First Minister a long and healthy retirement.

The UN rapporteur is very clear, it seems, on the need for the truth. Does the junior Minister think that she and the First Minister are getting the truth from their partner, Sinn Féin, given its continuing denial of even the existence of the IRA and its controlling army council? Does not that situation — if Sinn Féin persists in saying that, as far as the republican movement is concerned, there is nothing to disband — make a nonsense of the suggestion that there is going to be a process to disband paramilitary organisations?

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly DUP

Again, the First Minister has been very clear that people need to come forward. They need to tell the truth. They need to give that information. Although there is that quest for knowledge by all of us on those matters, the focus of the question and of my comments today is that the need for truth and justice for victims and survivors in particular is absolutely acute. We know that there are people across Northern Ireland who hold information that could give justice and truth to those victims and survivors. Therefore, today, I would like the focus to be on their cause, and I reiterate that anybody who has information should come forward to the PSNI and give that closure to victims and survivors.