Dealing with the Past

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 22nd February 2016.

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Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:30 pm, 22nd February 2016

Earlier, the Minister answered a question from my colleague Alex Attwood about the need to establish the truth from the past. I am sorry that there was not time for a supplementary. Perhaps I can use this opportunity to pursue the issue.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

T4. Mr Dallat asked the Minister of Justice, in view of the reluctance of the MOD and the British Army to make any attempt to help the disclosures from our terrible past, whether he believes it is now the responsibility of the British Prime Minister to take the issue in hand and deal with it. (AQT 3524/11-16)

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I certainly accept the point that Mr Dallat makes about the historical position. Following the letter from the Secretary of State for Defence to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on the back of my query, I think that we have seen an improvement in the help being offered by the MOD. However, that is where I hinted that we needed to ensure that it was carried through into reality. For example, we have seen it instituting better administrative checks on records, including pension records, to look at potential witnesses. We have also seen the agreement that the Royal Military Police (RMP) will use its policing powers, if necessary and possible, to assist the process. That would mean, obviously, that the RMP would have policing powers to go into liaising with outside agencies beyond simply trawling through MOD records. I think that there is some progress implied; the important issue is whether the comments made by Lord Justice Weir are taken into account by the MOD representatives and carried through in full.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Minister will be aware that I come from a constituency and neighbour a constituency where more than 20 people from both communities lost their life in rather strange circumstances. Does the Minister agree that the time for sending letters here, there and everywhere is over and that the British Government should acknowledge their involvement in that and pay the cost of finding out and telling the truth about what happened to our loved ones?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I certainly agree that the Government have a duty, as do other agencies and individuals, to assist in finding the truth about what happened in the case of the 55 legacy inquests awaiting hearing in courts in Northern Ireland. That includes people talking about their involvement in these issues as well as the more bureaucratic approach that we were talking about earlier with regard to finding potential witnesses and making them amenable. There is work to be done by agencies and a moral obligation on agencies and individuals to assist victims.