Villiers says Troubles investigators to be given ‘full disclosure’
Northern Secretary says UK government would not ‘misuse its powers’
Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said ‘full disclosure’ would be provided to the HIU so that it could fully investigate killings. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has stated that the British government and its agencies would provide “full disclosure” to a proposed new body charged with investigating past killings of the Troubles.
Ms Villiers insisted the British government would not “misuse its powers relating to national security,” in a speech in Belfast on Thursday aimed at trying to break the deadlock over how to deal with legacy issues.
The talks leading to last November’s Fresh Start Agreement failed to agree a number of proposals to assist victims and survivors of the conflict, with the British government accused by nationalist politicians of threatening to hold back on vital evidential information by citing British national security interests.
This led to proposals to create an Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) and also bodies such as the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group being put on hold.
Ms Villiers said “full disclosure” would be provided to the HIU so that it could fully investigate killings but that in certain cases some of that information could not be made public or given to the families seeking justice for their murdered loved ones.
“During the talks I listened carefully to those who were worried that the UK government might misuse its powers relating to national security. And we agreed that the government and its agencies would give full disclosure of all relevant documents to the HIU without any redactions,” she said.
“That is everything,” she emphasised. “All we have which relates to the cases HIU will investigate.
“The dispute is not about whether the HIU will have access to all the information it needs. It will. The dispute is about onward disclosure from the HIU,” added Ms Villiers in what was billed as a “key note” speech at Ulster University.
“And it is an inescapable fact that there is information which would put lives at risk if it were put into the public domain,” she said.
“There are notorious examples of where people accused of being informants have been hunted down and murdered. I do not want to be explaining to inquests in years to come why I failed to protect the information which led to more such tragedies in the future,” said Ms Villiers.
“And there are techniques and capabilities available to our security services that if known would be of value to terrorists.
“That’s not just violent dissidents in Northern Ireland, but also Islamist terrorists who want to attack our whole way of life,” she continued.
“No responsible government could allow this to happen and we must retain the power to prevent it,” insisted Ms Villiers.
Referring to the backlog of inquests going back to killings of the 1970s, Ms Villiers said she did not accept the argument that the problems stemmed from lack of commitment on the part of the British government or the police.
“Rather, it’s a simple fact that the current system was never designed to cope with a large number of highly complex and sometimes linked cases involving very sensitive information,” she said.
Ms Villiers also referred to a “pernicious counter narrative” that sought to “displace responsibility from the people who perpetrated acts of terrorism and place the State at the heart of nearly every atrocity and murder that took place - be it through allegations of collusion, misuse of agents and informers or other forms of unlawful activity”.
She said she would never defend the security forces by defending the indefensible.
“Where there is evidence of wrongdoing it will be pursued. Everyone is subject to the rule of law. Yet we need to be mindful of the context in which the security forces were operating,” she said.
Ms Villiers referred to how this Friday is the 27th anniversary of the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, and added:
“As a government, we have been more forthcoming than any of our predecessors in accepting where the State has failed to live to the highest standards, and in apologising where that is the right thing to do.
“The prime minister’s ground-breaking statement on Bloody Sunday is the most obvious example of that, but it’s not the only case.
“We also issued full and clear apologies in the Patrick Finucane and Claudy (IRA bombing) cases.”