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Debate resumed on amendment No 1 to motion:
That this Assembly believes in a victim-centred approach to addressing the past and that victims and survivors should have a meaningful input to the content and design of legacy proposals; further believes that justice, truth and accountability, acknowledgement and support for victims and survivors are essential elements in a comprehensive approach to the past; notes the comments by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on a public phase on legacy proposals; and calls on the British and Irish Governments for an urgent, renewed effort to conclude legacy issues, including the further development of the proposed roles and powers of the Oral History Archive, Historical Investigations Unit, Independent Commission on Information Retrieval and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group and rejects any attempts by the state, state agencies, illegal groups and others to evade justice, suppress the truth of and resist accountability for the past. — [Mr Attwood.]
Which amendment was:
Leave out all after the first "proposals;" and insert "further believes that all parties should work towards an early resolution of these matters; and welcomes the Government’s proposals to consult on a way forward.". — [Mr Frew.]
Insert after "issues" "prior to any public consultation".
I thank the Members who brought forward this motion on addressing the past. It is very timely. Indeed, a number of Members and parties have brought forward motions on legacy issues, which we will deal with today and tomorrow.
For more than a decade, Sinn Féin has consistently proposed the creation of an independent international truth commission. That was outlined during the 2009 Eames/Bradley consultation process. We have argued that such a process must be independent of the state, independent of combatant forces and independent of political parties. We reject all attempts to create and sustain a hierarchy of victims, and all processes should be victim-centred and deal with all victims of the conflict on the basis of equality. Although we continue to believe that an independent international truth recovery process offers the best way forward, we have signalled our intent to progress the issue of legacy by agreeing to proposals outlined in the Stormont House Agreement of 2014.
The Stormont House Agreement articulated a victim-centred approach — indeed, I think that all parties articulated that — to addressing the past, promising victims and families meaningful input. That has ramifications for a number of issues. Disclosure is essential, by way of family reports and meaningful consultation by the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) with families of victims during the investigative process. When staffing the Historical Investigations Unit, it needs to be ensured that its investigative teams fully meet article 2 compliance under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). There need to be comprehensive family reports for those families from the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR). I point out the lack of any appeal mechanism for those reports in the draft legislation that was produced.
There needs to be access to competent legal representatives for the families. If there are any closed material procedures, which are basically secret courts, those representatives must have passed the requisite vetting procedures, but, more importantly, the families must have confidence in the individuals who would represent their interests in any closed material procedure. Access to legal aid should be on a statutory basis, and there needs to be total clarity around any proposed appeals mechanism and its underpinning principles and criteria.
The Stormont House Agreement achieved consensus on the broad architecture of a suite of options, including justice; information recovery; enhancement of the coronial courts; storytelling; and provision of high-quality services for victims and families. All such options need to be addressed, and the mechanisms established, enhanced and adequately resourced. Without the resource, we can go nowhere.
It is clear from what I am saying that Sinn Féin welcomes the SDLP motion and Alex Attwood saying that he will accept our amendment. The British Secretary of State has outlined plans for a public consultation on addressing the past, and we have highlighted the need for a serious attempt by the British Government to resolve key outstanding issues prior to any public consultation. To date, we have not experienced any serious attempt by the British Government to do so.
So, our purpose in putting as our amendment the short addition of "prior to public consultation" after "issues" in line 7 is to make that point.
For this reason, I hope that those who will vote for the motion — the SDLP and others — will support the Sinn Féin amendment. We have been given indications that the SDLP at least will do that.
Logically then, we ask that the DUP amendment be rejected, as the intent is, at best, watering down the proposal and inviting publication of a flawed document, which will further demoralise the long-suffering families waiting for the structures that can bring them truth. Paul Frew said that there was a lot of disagreement between families, even within families, and different groups that are involved. I agree with that. Where I am inclined to disagree with him is that he let me point out that truth is the one thing. He has spoken to as many families as I and others in this Chamber have, and truth is the one thing that is consistent. It is the one thing that they demand and the one thing that everyone wants. The purpose of setting up the structures that we are talking about here is to get at that truth. I agree with him: once you get the truth, it does not necessarily mean that you will have reconciliation or even that you will have justice. But it is the one thing that every victim and survivor that I have ever spoken to has asked for.
Yes, I understand that. I agree with him on the point that, no matter who you talk to and, as I said, even within some families, people want different things out of this process. The idea of the architecture of the Stormont House Agreement was to set up a number of possibilities so that all those issues could be dealt with, from justice through to the ICIR, oral history and the other aspects of those structures. The purpose of doing that is that we can try to deal with all the issues. It may be an impossible task, and all the parties agreed at least to the structures being set up. Now we are facing a blockage, mostly, or maybe entirely, from the British Government, to attempts to get those structures set up, and that is what we want to do. So, I support the Sinn Féin amendment to the SDLP motion.
I support the motion, with some reservations with regard to definition of language, which I would like to work through. We all talk about a victim-centred approach, and that is fine, but, as a victims' commissioner some years ago, amongst the many sad stories that I heard was one, which I will not rehearse in full again in this House because I have previously, of the widow who had lost her husband over 30 years previously. For that time, she had held on to the one crumb of comfort that, while he was shot at point-blank range, he was dead before he hit the ground. That was her crumb of comfort for over 30 years until the Historical Enquiries Team reviewed the file and informed her that he lay bleeding to death, screaming her name, for 20 minutes before he passed away. So, although we can be victim-centred, we must realise that there are unintended consequences for individuals, and we must have the support mechanisms in place for individuals who receive such unwelcome and unexpected bad news.
The motion talks about giving a "meaningful input" to victims and survivors, and we now have that architecture in place with the commission and the service and particularly with the victims' forum, consulted by the Victims' Commissioner, but there is a question here. The 2006 Victims and Survivors Order gives a principal aim to the commissioner to:
"promote the interests of victims and survivors".
The question is this: does that mean that you simply listen to victims and survivors and then try to deliver what they are asking for, or do you analyse what they are asking for and perhaps make the difficult decision of saying, "What is in your best interests is not necessarily what you think you want"?
The Secretary of State is considering some form of public consultation. We await, somewhat intrigued, to see how he intends to progress that. We think that it should come first, and, therefore, we will not be supporting the Sinn Féin amendment. There is, perhaps, a case of, "Be careful what you wish for" here because, if he consults publicly and very widely, I think that we all recognise that there is a generational issue in that there are many young people for whom the Troubles is not a lived experience. Their attitude to dealing with the past may be significantly different to that of the majority of Members of this House. What we do expect of the Secretary of State in bringing forward any proposals is that they are, as he has said, "fair, balanced, impartial and" above all "proportionate".
I hear again in this debate that we do not want a hierarchy of victims, and the Ulster Unionist Party subscribes to that: no hierarchy of victims. The danger is that we have some sort of hierarchy of investigations. At the moment, many who were waiting in line for the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) now have nothing, while others have recourse to other bodies and processes up to and including public inquiries.
The motion talks of justice, truth, accountability and acknowledgement. I have no particular difficulty with that, but I note that it is a variation of the needs assessment of the Victims’ Commission, which talked about a three-pronged approach: truth, justice and acknowledgement. It seems to me that if we, as politicians, put a focus on acknowledgement, we could indeed perhaps start to shift this problem.
We would like further development of the proposed roles and powers of the new bodies agreed at Stormont House and, perhaps, to some extent, later in Fresh Start. Finally, there is this idea that we will reject any attempt to evade justice or suppress the truth. We agree with that, but we take that language to mean that the SDLP wishes to reject the use of public interest as an excuse not to tell the truth. If that is the meaning of what it is proposing in the motion, we are more than happy to support that. In conclusion, we will support the motion but not any of the amendments.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. I think that it is a constructive and timely motion. The search for a comprehensive framework on addressing the past remains, and I think that the key aspects of the motion are worthy. We do need a victim-centred approach. We do need a comprehensive approach. It is urgent, and we do need to conclude legacy issues on the frameworks that have been put in place for some years around the Historical Investigations Unit, the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group and around a search for improved services and storytelling and oral archiving experiences. We in the Alliance Party, of course, firmly reject any attempt to evade justice as well, so we are content to support the motion and, indeed, the amendment that seeks a conclusion on these issues prior to public consultation.
However, we will not be supporting the DUP amendment, which, I have to say, adds no value whatsoever to the motion or to the debate today. In putting forward the DUP amendment, Mr Frew asked whether the Alliance Party supports the Fresh Start Agreement on dealing with the past. The Fresh Start Agreement, which was signed as long ago as November 2015, says nothing on dealing with the past other than that the parties were not able to reach agreement on the establishment of new bodies to deal with the past and to support the provisions of the Stormont House Agreement and to reflect on how we can move forward to achieve legislation to that regard. The Stormont House Agreement is now two years old, and the then Alliance leader, David Ford, rightly dismissed that as a false start, not a fresh start, for victims and survivors.
Indeed, I am starting to wonder whether we have got to the point where the DUP thinks that, if it just keeps staying "fresh start" for long enough, the community and the parties in the Assembly will believe that it is actually a fresh start despite a lack of substance in much of that agreement, especially on such a sensitive and complex issue.
Many in our society and internationally have spent days, weeks and years dedicated to finding a comprehensive framework for dealing with the past. Healing Through Remembering, Eames/Bradley, Amnesty International, the Haass process and the Stormont House Agreement have all been driven by the courageous perseverance of many victims and survivors across our community, in particular the Victims Forum. It was an inspiration to meet the Victims Forum during the Haass process. Despite their fundamental differences and the extremely challenging experiences and trauma that members of that forum had been through, they were able to make constructive proposals on which a lot of the frameworks are now based. They convinced me that it would be morally wrong for the Executive, the Governments and the Assembly not to deliver on that comprehensive framework.
I know that there are some in our society who say that we should now draw a line under the past. I can understand where they are coming from to a certain extent, but I challenge anyone to meet the inspirational victims and survivors in our community and not conclude that, as the motion states, we have to urgently redouble our efforts to implement that comprehensive framework. It is also vital for wider peace and progress in Northern Ireland. I believe that there would be fundamental social and economic consequences for everyone were we not to put the framework in place. The Alliance Party has consistently supported and worked for a comprehensive framework based on improved access to justice, information services for victims and survivors and wider reconciliation.
I proposed a motion on a comprehensive framework five years ago, in October 2011. I worked tirelessly with many people in the Chamber and across our community on the Haass talks process. It brought forward substantive proposals. We do not have time today to go into those in detail, but it is clear that Executive Ministers and the UK and Irish Governments have a moral obligation to dispense with the delay and to deliver on the proposals. It is urgent for victims and survivors, but it is also urgent for our society and every member of it.
There is no doubt that Northern Ireland has come a long way in its recent history. We can all relate to the horror stories of atrocities happening on our doorsteps. I, for one, am grateful that my children's generation and beyond do not have to directly experience what we did. That said, a vast number of people in our society directly experienced horrific violence and continue to live with the consequences on a daily basis. Whilst we have moved on significantly, issues surrounding our past continue to overshadow many of the positive steps that we have taken and hold Northern Ireland back from truly moving on. Having made significant progress on a number of issues in the Stormont House Agreement, talks faltered again when trying to address legacy issues and how they should be dealt with. The Fresh Start Agreement of last November again sought to make progress on the matter and recognise that there will be no quick fix in how we address our past.
Moving forward is a huge work in progress and one that all parties must fully engage with. It is ironic that the party proposing the motion has disengaged from government and removed itself from the process of making progress happen. My party's amendment refers to how all parties should work towards an early resolution to these matters. The Opposition's failure to engage in the process will surely further delay any work to take the issue forward. I urge them to reconsider their position if they are truly committed to dealing with the past and moving forward.
Dealing with the past is hugely emotive. The suffering of victims and their families is not something that can be quantified or measured. It cannot be switched on and off, and it is intensely personal. In dealing with the past, those who have been directly affected should be front and centre of any decisions and outcomes. It is vital that we move on but equally important that we address our past. I use a well-worn quote by the philosopher George Santayana:
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
We never, ever want to return to the dark days of Northern Ireland's past.
I support my party leader's position that we must never use any investigation to attempt to rewrite the past. It cannot be forgotten that 90% of deaths during the Troubles were terrorist-related. I am not suggesting that the other 10% of deaths caused any less hurt or distress to the families involved, but I am keen to put it on record that any inquiry or inquest should not be used as a platform to romanticise terrorism or denigrate and demonise our security services, who put their lives at risk on a daily basis to protect us.
As I have already touched on, grief and suffering are intensely personal matters, and there will be no one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with the past. In moving forward, it is imperative that we listen to what victims and survivors want and need. Any inquest or inquiry should not be an exercise in lining the pockets of solicitors and barristers; it should be a mechanism by which those affected can gain the appropriate support and clarity to assist them in moving forward.
The past is something that cannot be ignored and will continue to be a spectre at the table of Northern Ireland's future until it is properly and appropriately dealt with. I am aware that our new Secretary of State has engaged with victims and survivors. In his own words, he found that to be:
"a profoundly moving and affecting experience."
I hope that that will be at the front of his mind and that he will fully engage in assisting the Assembly to quickly progress the issue through government and provide the financial support required to take it forward. There is a tangible desire to address the past, and that momentum should be encouraged to reach a long-awaited conclusion. I support the amendment.
As people have already said, victims of the conflict have a right to the truth about the past. We, as a party, have consistently said that we do not have any desire to score points on the issue, particularly in debates like today's. I am glad that it has been quite measured; some of the debates we have had on the subject have not been. It is very important that, no matter what we send out from the House, we say that we want a process that delivers for families. It is not about point-scoring or making party political points.
In order to advance reconciliation, it is important to address the hurt and division that has taken place to ensure that the conditions that created the conflict in the first place will not be repeated. We must all recognise that it is very important to the many people who have lost loved ones that they are able to pursue truth, justice and information recovery. The Member for Strangford is not here, but he mentioned young people looking in at the debate. In the cases of the people I know who still seek truth and justice about what happened to their loved ones, actually their grandchildren are the ones who have the passion and are behind the campaigns. Very clearly, there is a need for us to come to some conclusion on this and deal with it, because it will go down generations; people are not going to just forget about it.
Let me finish first, and I will see how far I get.
There is a need for the establishment of a comprehensive process that seeks to investigate the nature, the causes and the consequences of our recent conflict, and there are many families across society, in all of our communities, that suffered immense loss and harm. There are also many competing narratives and views and experiences of that conflict, and, on the reconciliation journey, all identities and cultures need to be given equal respect. We have said time and time again that we will promote and defend the rights of all victims and not support a process that allows discrimination and a hierarchy of victims to be introduced.
We are almost a year on from the Fresh Start Agreement, and there has still been no meaningful engagement from the British Government in serious negotiations around the impasse on their national security veto and other outstanding issues. We fully appreciate the hurt and frustration felt by victims and survivors at the end of the recent phase of negotiations. Again, it did not produce the outcome that they deserve and need.
In the past, national security has been used in a blanket fashion to prevent families from maximum information disclosure, and, as such, it was and continues to be unacceptable to many victims' families and campaign groups. In our negotiations, we put forward a number of options to try to get through the impasse, including an appeals mechanism, which my colleague, the proposer of the amendment, has just described, but they were not accepted. Since the end of the negotiations, we have engaged with officials from both the Irish and British Governments on occasions too numerous for me to remember. We are still trying to resolve outstanding issues.
The mechanisms of the HIU, the ICIR, the IRG and the Oral History Archive, which were agreed in the 2014 Stormont House talks, would see a number of processes being made available to families. As my colleague said, we had consistently called for an international independent truth recovery process. It is a compromise for people, but it is more than that. These are mechanisms so that families can get some sort of closure. During the Stormont House talks, those were the mechanisms that, from the suite of options available, we felt would help families to have a choice as to which road they want to take. They would give families access to justice; information recovery; enhancement of the Coroners' Courts; storytelling and archiving their experiences; and the provision of high-quality services, which cannot be missed either.
Am I near the end of my time?
Just to conclude, I think that there is an emphasis and an onus on us, which is why our amendment was tabled. Before we go to public consultation, we need to agree the mechanisms. We cannot let people down again. We cannot raise people's hopes and go out there again for something that is unacceptable to families.
I thank Mr Attwood for proposing the motion. It is an important motion. It is one of the core issues. If we do not deal with our past, we will never produce a better future for our society. We really need to deal with it.
Interestingly, I listened to the news today, and it was full of talk about parking fines. Important as that issue is, there was nothing about this debate. I wonder whether our media and society in general are slightly bored of the talking shop that we sometimes turn into, and what they really want is action. I get a sense from the motion and from listening to everybody here that there really is a will for action.
When I read the motion, I was struck by the first sentence, which contained the phrase "victim-centred". I have been thinking about the word "victim". I wonder whether the whole of Northern Ireland is a victim. Are we all victims? Is everybody in the Chamber a victim? Are we all held by our past? In some ways, I think that we are. I remember, as a 10-year-old in 1975 — I know that people think that I do not look old enough — that knock on the door and my mother crying as she was told that her brother had just been murdered by the IRA or by somebody else under that flag of convenience. But he was murdered. Am I a victim? I do not feel like one and do not think that I am one, but people in my position may well feel that they are victims, and they are right to feel that way. Everybody will take it slightly differently, as I do, but my family in general feel like they are victims.
The definition of a victim in the Victims and Survivors Order 2006 is quite broad and takes in many thousands of people who are victims. That is only the tip of the iceberg, because there are many thousands more. Everybody must be really mindful about what they say so that we do not create more victims. Victims are presenting with mental health issues 10, 20 and 30 years after an incident. The number of victims in Northern Ireland is increasing rather than decreasing. I listened to the Kieran Conway interview on 'HARDtalk'. I have to say that it was so ill-advised that that man will have created victims. People will have listened to what he said, and he will have created victims. That is why I say that we all have to be extremely mindful of the words that we choose. I need to be extremely mindful of that as well.
What does a victim want? I look at the three main categories of victim. Of course, I am putting people into blocks, and every victim is different. The first group wants justice, and there should be no barrier to that justice — absolutely none. It does not matter that you were a member of the state forces and broke the law; you should be held to account. If you were a terrorist or a paramilitary, you should be held to account. There should be no block to justice for the victims who want it. It must be fair, proportionate and balanced. What is the difference between the murder of Pat Finucane and the murder of my Uncle Samuel? Absolutely nothing. They were two heinous, horrendous crimes. There is no difference whatsoever, and that is important to remember. There should be no hierarchy of victims. Let us not politicise victims to make a hierarchy.
The second group of people just want to know what happened to loved ones in their last moments. They want to know, and they want acknowledgement that somebody did something wrong at a particular time. That is important.
The third group of people are those who just want to move on with life. We have to give them the ability to move on if that is what they want and if we are really to be victim-centred.
As far as the amendments are concerned, I will be honest. I am really sorry, but I cannot support the DUP amendment because it is, in truth, a little bit wishy-washy. I cannot support the Sinn Féin amendment because public consultation is important. Loyalist and nationalist groups need to be part of this. Communities in Ballymurphy, Shankill, Kingsmill, Bogside and Enniskillen are all victims and must be part of it, so we need that consultation. I support the motion.
It is unfortunate that we have to come back to these issues and air them so many times when the people who matter most, the victims and survivors, have not got any real resolution to them. I am encouraged by Mr Beattie's words: it is good to hear that people will support the idea that there will be no hierarchy of victims. No matter who pulled the trigger, we have victims right across our community, and that has to be at the heart of how we approach the issue.
This is the biggest unresolved issue from our peace process. It is very unfortunate, and it is a real stain on our political and peace process that we still have not resolved it. How much longer do we need to leave the victims outside the room? How many more family members do we need to watch go to their grave without fulfilling the promise that we would seek truth and justice for their loved one? All of us in the Chamber work with victims every week, and all of us understand the pain that victims and survivors are going through. All of us, I think, are coming at this from the right place. However, none of us should feel OK about the fact that we still have not resolved the hugely important and difficult issues that it is absolutely necessary to resolve.
We have been from the Good Friday Agreement to Eames/Bradley right through to last autumn's Fresh Start proposals, and, every single time, we have given the victims some level of comfort or confidence that we were going to resolve their issues. We all know now that they are absolutely sick of being re-traumatised and, year after year, being put through the same public airing without any real solution. This has to be the phase where we move to the endgame.
I am happy to hear from the Secretary of State that we are moving into a public phase, and I want that to happen sooner rather than later.
But we cannot come up to this issue again saying we are going to resolve it and then not resolve it. We cannot leave the victims at the top of the hill any more times.
It is important to say this: many people of my generation, and of most generations, say to me, "Why don't you just move on? Why don't you stop talking about the past? Why don't you just draw a line in the sand and forget about it? We all want to move on". That is a very understandable point of view, but I think they are wrong. We have all done all right out of this peace process. We are all in this Assembly; we are all moving on. But all of us, especially us, those who are elected to represent our society, owe the biggest debt to those who have been left behind by our peace process. We owe the biggest debt to those who suffered most, particularly those who were not involved at all. We have a responsibility to ensure that no longer do we have to come to this Chamber to debate these issues, to re-traumatise people, but that we actually solve the problem, that we give them a route to the truth, justice, information or whatever it is that those individuals seek and deserve.
It has to be noted as well — sometimes it is forgotten — that we have a fragile peace here. Nothing is certain. Anybody with access to a history book understands that. If we continue to try to bury this issue, it will pop up in a way that we cannot control. In Ireland, the past has a terrible way of creating a dangerous future, so all of us have a responsibility to resolve that.
The British Government have gone quiet. I have had some great meetings with James Brokenshire. He has gone quiet in the last number of weeks and months. He has a responsibility to bring us to a resolution on all these issues. Disclosure is a major sticking point in this, but disclosure goes both ways. Everybody, whether they were state or non-state actors, has a responsibility to come forward with truth and information to allow all our victims, no matter who they are, to get some respite after all this.
I want, first, to make a specific point, and I make it on behalf of the WAVE Trauma Centre and Alan McBride, who was, of course, bereaved in the Shankill bombing. I would like the Executive to answer — not here but somewhere — why there has been no provision for people who suffered injuries in the conflict to the extent that they have been unable to work and, therefore, unable to build up an occupational pension. Some of them, now in their late 50s and in their 60s, find that because of that, they have to rely on basic benefits. Why should that be? This is a relatively small matter with a relatively small amount of money. Why has it not been addressed, despite the fact that Alan McBride and many others have been pleading for years to have something done about it?
That having been said, I want to move on to the broader question about a victim-centred approach to the past. You cannot have a victim-centred approach unless the victims get the truth. In my estimation looking forward, and I do not do much gambling these days, the odds of the victims of the conflict in the North getting the truth is as close to zero as makes no difference. Does anybody seriously believe that the British Government at this stage of events are going to tell the truth about the behaviour of their secret forces in colluding with murder over 40 years? Does anybody seriously think that they are going to tell the truth about that? They are not. This business of national security — it goes beyond that. They have never told the truth about their involvement in murder throughout their period of empire and the rest of it. They are not going to do it now.
I heard a suggestion made a few minutes ago that the new Secretary of State, Mr Brokenshire, has a positive approach to this sort of thing. No he does not. I sat with the relatives of the Ballymurphy massacre, as did others, just across the way a couple of weeks back with Mr Brokenshire. Not a flicker of concern showed on his face throughout a meeting that lasted more than an hour. Not a word that he said gave any comfort to the people who were looking for the truth about why their loved ones were killed, shot down by members of the Parachute Regiment in August 1971. Mr Brokenshire is not a friend of the victims. As far as I am concerned, he is a despicable individual who could not care less about the people of the North of Ireland, including the victims of Northern Ireland. And why should he? Why should he? The British Government could not care less about their own people across the water who died in the conflict.
Order. I ask the Member to resume his seat.
I know that the Member is relatively new to the House, but there are terms that are not acceptable when describing individuals. I caution the Member about his use of language, particularly the reference that he made to the Secretary of State.
If it is out of order to refer to Mr James Brokenshire as a "despicable individual", I will withdraw it, if that is your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker. You can stop me saying it, but, I will tell you this, you cannot stop me thinking it and you cannot stop hundreds of thousands of other people in this society thinking it.
I mentioned a moment ago, just before you spoke, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the British Government do not care about victims across there. I have had occasion in the recent past to speak to victims of the Birmingham bomb. People were out for a night in Birmingham city centre in November 1974 and were blown to bits. For example, Maxine Hambleton, 18 years old, went into a pub to deliver a message and was blown to smithereens. She was a girl, a young woman who harboured no hatred towards anybody on this island and who had no involvement of any kind in the events that we are discussing here. She was blown to bits. What succour has her family got from the British Government? They have been lied to. I have spoken to them. Lied to by the cops — the West Midlands Police. Lied to by the courts and by judges. Lied to by the Home Office. Lied to by the press. The truth has been kept from them. I mentioned Maxine Hambleton, and I hope that her sister Julie will be in Derry in the last weekend in January to speak to the Bloody Sunday relatives about the fact that they have in common that they have been lied to and despicably treated by the Government. The British Government will not tell the truth about their role here.
We have the Oral History Archive, the Historical Investigations Unit, the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group — this alphabet soup of agencies and units. I do not know what these things mean, and I have got a bit of an interest in this.
I thank the Member for giving way. Far be it for me to stop you in your flow, but a lot of the proposals were put forward by victims and survivors, many of whom form the Victims Forum and have courageously worked to make some of the proposals. Does he accept that some people feel that some of those groups may improve access to justice and information and that they merit some consideration?
I think that they are all good, every one of them. I am positive about every one of them. What I am saying is that they all depend on the truth being told by the perpetrators and by the political representatives of the perpetrators. There is no sign whatsoever of that happening.
I agree with the Member who said that perhaps we are all victims. I sometimes think that half this country is in bits as a result of the conflict and the other half does not care. That is the situation, and it goes down to maybe eight-, nine- and 10-year-olds. They are affected by it because their parents were affected by it, and you do not need to have lost a member of your immediate family to be traumatised by it. Loads of people are. Hundreds of thousands of people are. They are not being treated fairly. There is no sign that they will be treated fairly either by the Government or by the leaders of paramilitary organisations. Victims are being treated despicably. The best thing that they can do is stay on the streets, stay fighting and put pressure on from below on Governments, paramilitary leaders and the rest. That is the only thing that will work.
With the victim-makers at the top and heart of government in Northern Ireland, anyone who thinks that their innocent victims are going to get a fair deal is deluded, just as they will take no comfort from the platitudes of a bomber and of a killer who have spoken in the Chamber today. Right at the heart of this injustice for innocent victims is the pernicious definition of "victim" that rules in this land, that which obscenely equates perpetrator and victim-maker with those whom they make victims.
So long as that is the definition in the law of the land, there will be no fairness, no justice, for innocent victims. Frankly, it is only innocent victims I care about. I have no brief for the victim-makers or for those who inflicted on themselves their injury: they got their just deserts. I do care, however, about their innocent victims, and unless and until we bring justice to the definition of a victim, which this motion and amendments do not even mention, we will go round in circles and deliver nothing for innocent victims.
Yes, many pay lip service to the need to change the definition of a victim and to right that great wrong, but it is lip service. Take the DUP. It has had multiple opportunities — at St Andrews, at Hillsborough, at Stormont House, in the Fresh Start talks — to make the definition of a victim a red-line issue, but never once did it do so. Lip service was easy; doing something that might threaten their love and lust for power was far too hard an ask. So, we are in this vicious circle. Innocent victims continue to suffer the injustice of the definition that attends them.
Under these proposals, that will be compounded through a body with a grand-sounding name, the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval. That is an odious suggestion. The rules that govern it will set the scene for a rewrite of the history of the Troubles. They proffer the victim-makers the opportunity to give, in secret and anonymously, their selective account of who they murdered and why they murdered them, and they can justify it. None of what they say needs to be corroborated; none of it can be tested; none of it can be used against them. Indeed, the very victims they made cannot be told who said what about their relative and why they were killed. What a perfect setting for the rewriting of history.
That will then be tapped into by a further body, the Implementation and Reconciliation Group, which, at the end of the process, will take up the themes — you can guarantee that alleged collusion will be one of them — that they have been fed from this rewriting of history. Then innocent victims are supposed to applaud and think that they have been granted something wonderful. They have —
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. I have a lot in common with what Mr Allister has just said. Where does the truth lie in these matters? The fact is that the IRA was responsible for over half the murders during the Troubles. When it comes to truth recovery, will there be books, turned over by the IRA, telling us who did what and why, why particular people were targeted and who gave the instructions? Of course, everybody knows the answer to that question. The answer is that no books will be turned over in aid of truth recovery, but there will be an obsession, a drive and a push to recover all the information that is available on the side of the security services. There will be none of it on the side of paramilitaries; so, 90% of the victims out there who we are talking about will not get any truth but we will have a rigorous pursuit of the security services on behalf of the 10%. I have to tell you, folks, "That ain't possible and it ain't going to happen". It is not a fair and equitable way with which to deal with it.
Mr Eastwood was one of the people who brought forward the motion. I regret that he is out of his seat at this moment. Mr Eastwood carried the coffin of an INLA man. I find that particularly offensive. One day, as a boy, I came home from school to discover my mother in a particularly distressed state. She was in a particularly distressed state because my dad, who was a DUP councillor, came out of the Belfast market and was shot at by the INLA and she did not know what the circumstances were when I came home. Fortunately, while the vehicle was hit, he was not. I have no truck with, or succour for, those who support the INLA in any way, shape or form, whether that be by carrying a coffin or anything else. I will not find out the absolute truth of what happened that day; who ordered it and who pulled the trigger, but I did happen to find out materials and issues relating to it. Unfortunately, we do not have an evidential base to go through with, but I believe that the person who carried out that action is now dead. He was a Mr O'Reilly who was shot in Drogheda in an INLA feud along with another member of the INLA.
When we talk about victims, we want real truth for victims. When Sinn Féin can step up to the plate and tell us that it will be honest, unequivocal, open and truthful and not obey the code — this famous code that those former members of the IRA have to abide by — we can make real progress. I do not believe —
I think that the Member comes very close to the real issue here. There are too many — and I suspect that there are more on the other side of the House than on this side — who seem to think that everybody who lost their life was a victim. Some were victims of their own despicable behaviour. I challenge the SDLP to tell us today whether it is saying to us that everybody who died in the Troubles is a victim despite the fact that they were taken out by their own gun.
Thank you for that.
The key point here is that unless the people on the paramilitary side come forward and tell the truth, the recovery system will not be an all-encompassing and equal system.
The other side of the House is constantly talking about equality. Are we going to get that equality? Will the paramilitaries speak up and tell the truth? They have never told the truth in the past. That is just the case. Mr Adams will not even admit that he was a member of the IRA, yet we are expected to believe that they will tell us the truth. If you want to give us the truth, let us see it kicking off. Let us see how it will happen. Let us see it commence.
All that I can see is a means of going after the security services and their role in the Troubles and, by doing so, paint and project them as the bad boys, the black boys and the people who were doing wrong — when, in actual fact, they stood in the way of anarchy in this place — and, as a result of painting them in that way, rewrite history and say, "Do you know what? Republicans had to step up to the plate and defend our community against these bad and evil people". That is not going to happen. I know that that is the motive of individuals inside and outside the Chamber, but it is not going to happen. We will resist that at every opportunity. We will resist the blackening of the security services. They were the people who stood between us and anarchy and who stood in defence of the people of Northern Ireland and beyond. I am eternally grateful for everything they did to ensure that people like us have the opportunity to speak in a democratic forum here today.
In the main, it was a fairly even-tempered debate; there was even a moderate approach to the issue. I think that most Members who spoke addressed the core issue. However, it was unfortunate that, near the end, after Jim Allister spooked the horses, we had a return to the rhetoric of the past, which served no purpose in trying to address something that is very difficult. It is an issue that has focused the minds of most of us on trying to come up with a resolution to deal with what people broadly call the legacy of the past.
We welcome the fact that Alex Attwood accepted our amendment in the spirit in which it was made, which was to try to strengthen the motion. It is a fairly reflective motion; I think that most Members accept that it is well grounded and well intended. I regret that Mike Nesbitt and Doug Beattie do not get the reasons why we put in the amendment. It was not in any way to try to postpone anything; we are trying to ensure that, after the British Government fulfil their responsibilities, there should be consultation, not the other way round.
Paul Frew proposed the DUP amendment. I think that he accepted that there was nothing in the SDLP motion that he disagreed with, although he certainly had issues and reservations. My appeal is that we should not allow the House to divide on minor issues that have been outlined today. We should all be focused on trying to address the issues on behalf of what people call victims and survivors. Unfortunately, near the end, we heard the politics of division, which is not in the best interests of victims, no matter how people want to define them. Interestingly, in one part of today's proceedings, Members talked about no one being beyond the law, but other Members started to believe that the people whom they represent, whether they are the good guys, the bad guys or however you refer to them, can step outside the law. That is not how we should approach this. The motion is well grounded and well centred in its approach.
Gerry Kelly outlined our position. We have argued, as far back as Eames/Bradley, that perhaps the best way to approach this would have been an independent international truth commission. However, we have all seen over recent times, particularly with the Stormont House Agreement and the Fresh Start Agreement, that people have different ideas. We all have to come together to provide a framework in which we can face up to the challenges that, undoubtedly, there will be while having the victims foremost in our minds. Paul Frew is right: there is no single voice from or approach taken by all victims or victims' groups. However, I think that all of them would urge us to ensure that we come up with a process from which as many of them as possible get truth and justice. The Fresh Start Agreement and the Stormont House Agreement laid the framework in which that could happen. That is not to say that many victims' groups do not have criticisms, but I think that, in the main, they believe that the framework sent a clear signal that we are going in the right direction. That is the approach that we should take.
Of course, there are principles on which all this will be founded. It has to be independent. There should be no room for partisanship or for it to serve narrow self-interests, including those of the state, armed groups and political parties, and even, as someone said, economic interests. That is how it should be taken forward. It should be victim-centred. People might have different definitions of what that means, but equality should be at its core. Sometimes people hear about the idea of rewriting the past. There can be no rewriting of the past. History is there for us all to examine. We will certainly come at it from different perspectives, but the victims and people seeking truth and justice are entitled to mechanisms that deliver it. None of us should put any obstacles in the way of allowing that to happen. In our opinion, the British Government have tried to do that, and Eamonn McCann outlined some of the issues with regard to the sort of cover-all of British national security interests.
I thank all Members for their contribution to what has been a relatively constructive debate today. We are debating issues that are often very personal and very sensitive. While doing that, we should be looking to see how we can put victims and survivors at the very top of our agenda or, as my colleague Pam Cameron said, to the front of how we progress and move forward; it is a thread that has been going right through the debate.
There is a programme on television called 'Pop Goes Northern Ireland'. It shows all the songs from the 70s and 80s etc, but also gives a flavour of just what Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK were like during the bad old days. If anything, it shows just how much we owe the victims when we see the carnage that was created across our streets in Northern Ireland. This debate today is very much about putting right the wrongs of the past. The thread that has been going through this is that we need to make decisions; we need to get this sorted.
Someone from the opposite Benches mentioned that this has been going on for far too long. We have been here so many times before. It reminded me of one of those Proverbs:
"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick."
For many victims and survivors, their hopes have been put on hold, put to the side and deferred in many ways. If anything, the debate today must be about how we address this situation. It has been going on for far too long. We understand the complexities and the sensitivities, but we need to move on. Many people have been saying that we are focused on building a better future for Northern Ireland, but that this must include victims and survivors if we are to make any progress.
Mr Attwood — I think he has left the Chamber — highlighted the importance of victims and survivors in the design of any proposal. I thought that was a good suggestion because we do not want this to be a top-down approach. We want to listen, as Mr Allister said — not just to listen, but to make progress to ensure that we are making the decisions about taking this forward.
Pam Cameron mentioned that we need to make significant progress, as outlined in the Stormont House Agreement. She made a very good point in saying that there is no quick fix. Although it is taking so long, we need to get it done right, but we need to have that sense of urgency as well. The suffering of victims and families cannot be quantified; that was a good point that was made. They should be front and centre of any consultation and implementation. She picked up that there is a desire in the Assembly to deal with the past and move on.
Eamonn McCann — he is away as well — talked about truth. He was very cynical that any of the victims will actually get truth. He talked about the British Government and said that there is no way that the British Government will come up with the truth. My colleague Paul Frew made reference to the truth coming from the Irish Government as well. There are a number of actors in this but, ultimately, it is getting the truth from many of those angles.
I thank Paul Frew for proposing our amendment. He agreed with a lot of what Alex Attwood had said and made the point that we all know victims and we all know survivors. Just to look at the pain in their eyes, we do not understand how many of those people have suffered and continue to suffer.
He talked about our needing to move Northern Ireland forward. The British and Irish Governments have a very difficult task, but we need to get that agreement.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this all-important debate. Over 3,500 people here were killed and thousands more were injured during those very dark days. Local businesses and livelihoods were destroyed, and sectarian entrenchment deepened to an unprecedented scale, which, in homes and throughout our communities, we are still living with today in the politics of the North. The British state responded heavily and, in many cases, unjustly. Many civilians suffered physically through maiming and disability, while, for many others, the mental flashbacks continue to haunt their very existence. An estimated 200,000 people were impacted in some way by the Troubles, and they are struggling to access basic care and support services. I have seen this at first hand in my constituency and home town of Strabane and throughout West Tyrone.
Needless to say, the Troubles resulted in a terrible loss of life; too many families are still seeking truth and justice for the deaths of their loved ones 18 years after peace has been delivered. In the years following the Good Friday Agreement, we have seen very little agreement on many, many issues. There is little common ground between the Government parties about how and what we commemorate, remember or, perhaps, conveniently forget and, significantly, who should be called to question, either legally or morally, for the many deaths, injuries and atrocities. We have witnessed inquiries into the grievous crimes committed on Bloody Sunday, and we have had other inquiries and investigations by the Historical Enquires Team and the Police Ombudsman, along with a number of inquests and civil cases, all leading to limited prosecutions.
There has been a series of political attempts to address the legacy of the past, most recently with the Eames/Bradley talks, right down to the proposals in the Stormont House Agreement. Eames/Bradley was a high-water mark in providing the most coherent and effective way forward in scale, powers and ambition, but, in each subsequent conversation or round of talks, this threshold has been degraded substantially, and we have to ask ourselves why.
While political parties and the British state all say that they are committed to the idea of some sort of truth and reconciliation, none of them really wants their own past to be dredged up: all of them have something to answer for. Sinn Féin hides behind the mantra that the IRA no longer exists, despite the gross atrocities that the IRA caused, while others have questions to answer, none more so than in relation to the Omagh bomb in my constituency. It raises the question of what exactly Sinn Féin is scared of. What skeletons are still left in the cupboard? What about abuse cover-ups? What about Jean McConville? What about the disappeared? The IRA inflicted great pain and suffering across the North and on its own people, yet Sinn Féin is still found wanting in answering the most fundamental questions. These people still need closure on the deaths of their loved ones.
The British Government also have a lot to answer for, as Mr McCann mentioned very passionately: the internment of hundreds of innocent civilians without due process, trial or charges, and the litany of human rights abuses carried out by the British state behind closed doors in places like Castlereagh. We have the so-called hooded men, a shoot-to-kill policy used against innocent civilians, and we have had atrocities such as the Ballymurphy Ten and Bloody Sunday. That is not to mention the dealings of operatives such as Freddie Scappaticci — agent Stakeknife, as he is known — who was an alleged high-ranking British agent in the Provisional IRA who was responsible for an estimated 50 murders.
Against that backdrop, it beggars belief what the past can bring up and what has been hidden, but there seems to be little appetite for such emanating from Whitehall, nor is there much prospect of implementing —
I will not; I have a lot to get through.
There is not much prospect of implementing the Stormont House Agreement due to the historical and, perhaps, more recent acts of some political parties and the lack of willingness to unearth the truth. The Stormont House Agreement provides for some £30 million to deal with the past. We all know that that is nowhere near enough to deal with the demand for services. Due to the Troubles, hurt, pain and suffering are embedded in our society, as evidenced by the fact that requests for services go up by almost 30% year on year. As more and more people come forward, there is not the capacity to deal with such demand for justice services, health services or social services — services that, 18 years later, should be in place.
I will not. We have witnessed stall after stall, and it has become clear that there is little appetite for full, rigorous and comprehensive unearthing of the past among the governing political parties or from Westminster. Some simply have too much to hide, and some have too much to lose.
I turn to Members' individual contributions. From my party, Alex Attwood, in moving the motion, noted the importance of dealing with the past in its many manifestations. He questioned the budget made available through the Fresh Start Agreement, which is insufficient to have any meaningful impact, and he urged support for today's motion calling for the Executive to act as a matter of urgency.
Mr Frew outlined the DUP's position, stating that there needs to be a holistic approach to dealing with the past and that this must be a matter of urgency. I do not think that any of us will disagree with that.
Mike Nesbitt, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, gave some personal accounts of the issues facing victims and highlighted the importance of having support mechanisms in place for the many people and families impacted by the past. He further stated the need for a three-pronged approach of truth, justice and acknowledgement. I think that we can all agree with that approach.
I have a lot to get through. Chris Lyttle, from the Alliance Party, criticised the Fresh Start Agreement and the lack of action flowing from it. He stated that we need to redouble our efforts in tackling the past. He specifically mentioned the important work of stakeholders in pushing the agenda to Stormont.
The SDLP leader stated that we cannot leave victims behind and said that there is a great need to solve the issues of the past. He said that disclosure is crucial and that everyone involved has responsibility for that.
Mr McCann passionately questioned the integrity of the current Secretary of State and gave a considerable analysis of his view of him.
Mr Allister questioned the actions of a party in the current Government.
Mr Poots, my party leader, Colum Eastwood, and many Sinn Féin Members discussed disclosure. Let me make it very clear that disclosure is not a one-way street: it is not just about the British Government; it is about the many violent organisations that existed also coming forward with the truth. The SDLP has been very consistent in relation to that.
In answer to a point that Mr Poots made about my party leader, let me be very clear that the SDLP has never in its entire existence supported violence.
We have never supported any violent organisation. To use your former leader's phrase, we have "Never, never, never" supported violence, and we will never support violence. I totally reject Mr Poots's comments.
Finally, the SDLP —
Question put, That amendment No 1 be made. The Assembly divided:
Mr Anderson, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Girvan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mrs Little Pengelly, Ms Lockhart, Mr Logan, Mr Lyons, Mr McCausland, Mr McQuillan, Mr Middleton, Lord Morrow, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Stalford, Mr Storey, Ms Sugden, Mr Weir, Mr Wells
Tellers for the Ayes: Mr McQuillan, Mr Robinson
Mr Agnew, Mr Aiken, Mr Allen, Ms Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Mr Butler, Mr Carroll, Mr Chambers, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Mrs Dobson, Mr Durkan, Mr Eastwood, Dr Farry, Ms Fearon, Mr Ford, Ms Gildernew, Ms Hanna, Mr Hazzard, Mr Kearney, Mr Kelly, Mrs Long, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyttle, Mr E McCann, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Mr McCrossan, Mr McElduff, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McKee, Mr McMullan, Mr McNulty, Mr McPhillips, Ms Mallon, Mr Maskey, Mr Milne, Mr Mullan, Mr Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs Overend, Mrs Palmer, Ms Seeley, Mr Sheehan, Mr Smith, Mr Swann
Tellers for the Noes: Mr McGrath, Mr Mullan
The following Members voted in both Lobbies and are therefore not counted in the result: Mr Allister
Question accordingly negatived.
We now move to the vote on amendment No 2. I have been advised by the party Whips that, in accordance with Standing Order 27(1A)(b), there is agreement that we can dispense with the three-minute rule and move straight to the Division.
Question put, That amendment No 2 be made. The Assembly divided:
Mr Agnew, Ms Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Mr Carroll, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Mr Durkan, Mr Eastwood, Dr Farry, Ms Fearon, Mr Ford, Ms Gildernew, Ms Hanna, Mr Hazzard, Mr Kearney, Mr Kelly, Mrs Long, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyttle, Mr E McCann, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Mr McCrossan, Mr McElduff, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McMullan, Mr McNulty, Mr McPhillips, Ms Mallon, Mr Maskey, Mr Milne, Mr Mullan, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Ms Seeley, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sugden
Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Kelly, Mr McCartney
Mr Aiken, Mr Allen, Mr Allister, Mr Anderson, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Ms Bunting, Mr Butler, Mrs Cameron, Mr Chambers, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dobson, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mr Frew, Mr Girvan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mrs Little Pengelly, Ms Lockhart, Mr Logan, Mr Lyons, Mr McCausland, Mr McKee, Mr McQuillan, Mr Middleton, Lord Morrow, Mr Nesbitt, Mrs Overend, Mrs Palmer, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Smith, Mr Stalford, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir, Mr Wells
Tellers for the Noes: Mr McQuillan, Mr Robinson
Question accordingly negatived.
Main Question put and agreed to. Resolved:
That this Assembly believes in a victim-centred approach to addressing the past and that victims and survivors should have a meaningful input to the content and design of legacy proposals; further believes that justice, truth and accountability, acknowledgement and support for victims and survivors are essential elements in a comprehensive approach to the past; notes the comments by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on a public phase on legacy proposals; and calls on the British and Irish Governments for an urgent, renewed effort to conclude legacy issues, including the further development of the proposed roles and powers of the Oral History Archive, Historical Investigations Unit, Independent Commission on Information Retrieval and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group and rejects any attempts by the state, state agencies, illegal groups and others to evade justice, suppress the truth of and resist accountability for the past.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The First Minister and Justice Minister were present for a vote on the most recent motion on the serious issue of addressing legacy issues for victims and survivors in our community, yet not one of them was able to offer an Executive response to that motion. Is the Deputy Speaker willing to review ministerial responses to debates in the Assembly?