Victims’ families call for process on dealing with North’s past to be implemented

3,500 relatives have signed an open letter to Taoiseach and UK prime minister

The relatives urge Micheál Martin and Boris Johnson to “immediately turn your attention to this matter and fulfil the commitment ... that the Stormont House Agreement be implemented in full without further prevarication or delay.”  Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The relatives urge Micheál Martin and Boris Johnson to “immediately turn your attention to this matter and fulfil the commitment ... that the Stormont House Agreement be implemented in full without further prevarication or delay.” Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Some 3,500 relatives of people killed during the Troubles have signed an open letter calling on the Taoiseach and the UK prime minister to ensure that a process for dealing with the North’s past is fully implemented without further delay.

“We are writing to you as relatives bereaved during the conflict to seek your assurances that our human rights as victims will no longer be disregarded or denied,” the letter states.

“The peace process has repeatedly failed to deliver on our rights to truth, justice and accountability,” they write, and urge Micheál Martin and Boris Johnson to “immediately turn your attention to this matter and fulfil the commitment ... that the Stormont House Agreement be implemented in full without further prevarication or delay.”

The letter appears this morning in newspapers in Belfast and in the Irish Echo in New York, where it also carries a separate appeal to Irish-Americans to lobby the incoming Biden administration, as well as Congress and Senate, to ensure the UK government honour its commitments.

The Stormont House Agreement, which was reached between the Irish and British governments in 2014, contains a number of provisions for addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past.

These include the creation of a new independent investigation unit to re-examine all unsolved Troubles-era killings, as well as a truth recovery process.

It has not yet been implemented, but in March 2020 the UK government announced a new approach which diverged from the Stormont House model, saying instead that only cases where there was new evidence and a “realistic prospect” of conviction would be re-investigated.

This has been broadly criticised by victims’ groups in Northern Ireland, with the then Victims’ Commissioner, Judith Thompson, telling the NI Affairs Select Committee in 2020 that it was hard to see how this would achieve the “investigative rigour, the commitment to families or the transparency and independence necessary.”

Mark Thompson of victims and survivors group Relatives for Justice, which organised the letter, said it was the “the single largest initiative ever undertaken involving only those directly bereaved”, and included families affected “by all actors to the conflict and from across the community” who had united in a joint call.

“Approximately half of those who signed the open letter are 35 years and under,” Mr Thompson said.

“This represents the current and future generations and underlines the ongoing trauma and intergenerational impact that the killing of a relative has also had on surviving families.

“In many instances this younger generation are the very people who are raising these unsolved killings and engaged in legal processes on behalf of those who died without ever seeing truth or justice.

“It’s also a clear indication that the past is ever present and speaks to a determination, now more than at other time, that following human rights violations the human rights of victims must frame how we address the past.”

Meanwhile the North’s former Police Ombudsman, Baroness Nuala O’Loan, has said the UK government should fund a victims’ payment scheme for the most severely injured in the Troubles.

The scheme was due to open for applications in 2020, but the Northern Executive and the UK government remain deadlocked over who should pay for the scheme.

“The position remains at stalemate,” Baroness O’Loan said.

“This is deeply unfair to the surviving victims of the Troubles for whom a pension has been legislated but not delivered.

“It is ludicrous and deeply immoral to think of placing the resource burden of legacy solutions on a small devolved region,” she said. –Additional reporting - PA.