Villiers outlines how legacy of Troubles will be addressed

Northern Secretary insists proposals do not amount to an amnesty for ex-paramilitaries

Theresa Villiers: the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has published proposals on how to help victims of the Troubles. Photograph:  Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Theresa Villiers: the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has published proposals on how to help victims of the Troubles. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

 

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers has rejected a claim that a policy paper on how to address the legacy of the Troubles amounted to an amnesty for former paramilitaries.

As talks aimed at breaking the political impasse at Stormont continued, Ms Villiers said the North’s political parties were “showing a willingness” to resolve the key problems over paramilitarism and the deadlock over welfare reform.

Ms Villiers has published proposals on how to help victims of the Troubles but she warned legacy issues would be addressed only in the context of a comprehensive political agreement.

Ms Villiers set out in the paper how three new institutions that were signed up to by the parties in the stalled Stormont House agreement of last Christmas would be created. These bodies were put on hold after Sinn Féin and the SDLP subsequently said they could not accept British government welfare reform.

Unsolved murders

The HIU, which would effectively replace the historical inquiries team which was set up to investigate 3,000 unsolved murders of the Troubles, will be an independent body which will carry on these investigations.

The ICIR will be established by international agreement between the British and Irish governments. It will enable victims and survivors to seek and privately receive information about the Troubles-related deaths of their next of kin.

Information provided to the information retrieval commission cannot be used to bring prosecutions. Prosecutions, however, can take place in relation to such killings on the basis of other evidence.

Oral history archive

The policy paper presented by Ms Villiers also contains a provision to extend the time available to allocate ministerial positions from seven days to 14 days after the Northern Assembly first meets following an election.

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister, who is not involved in the talks, said the proposed historic investigative and truth recovery arrangements were tantamount to offering an amnesty to former paramilitaries.

“Terrorists will be able to turn up to the ICIR and tell them whatever self-serving account of an incident they wish without any fear of it being used against them,” he said.

“It will therefore become a vehicle which will permit a terrorist-friendly rewriting of history with no fear of those who tell their stories being brought before the courts.”

Ms Villiers said the proposals were not the equivalent of an amnesty.

“There is no amnesty in this paper. There won’t be an amnesty in the Bill, an amnesty was rejected by the five Northern Ireland parties during the Stormont House talks – that is not the right way forward,” she said.