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Platform by Doug Beattie MC MLA on Legacy

Platform piece by the Ulster Unionist Party’s Justice Spokesperson, Doug Beattie MC MLA.

"The long awaited Northern Ireland legacy consultation – which is based on the Stormont House Agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein - is now live and open for the next four months. The outcome of this consultation will set the direction for how we deal with the legacy of the period known as the ‘Troubles’. 

An estimated 300,000 British military personnel served on Operation Banner in Northern Ireland – a Counter Insurgency (COIN) operation to tackle civil unrest, support the Royal Ulster Constabulary and counter the terrorist threat. But the ‘Troubles’ spilled out of Northern Ireland to affect the daily lives of civilians throughout the United Kingdom leaving many dead, many more injured and many more fearful as to where the next bombing of a pub or barracks or town centre might take place. Indeed, the Troubles affected other parts of the world with IRA murders of British, German and Australian citizens in Germany and Holland.

However, looking at the consultation you will see that it addresses a very small number of victims – in fact it only address fatalities. If you analyse the numbers, you will see that the investigatory mechanism of the legacy proposals – the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) – will examine 1,700 fatalities out of a total of over 3,500 deaths and it will within this number re-examine every killing by British military personnel and members of law enforcement agencies. Yet, for some reason, it will not re-examine every killing where British Military personnel and members of law enforcement agencies were the victims.

That statistic might be eye catching enough but the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) openly admit that there were some 40,000 victims of the troubles, many of them left disfigured, limbless or suffering severe mental trauma. Others – mostly in Northern Ireland – have suffered ‘Troubles’ related sex crimes that again will not be re-examined. In all many thousands of victims, mostly created by republican and loyalist terrorists, will never be given even the prospect of justice as the PSNI have stated in letters to service personnel that they do not have the resources to examine the incident that has left them a victim of the troubles.

In February 2018 the UK Supreme Court ruled in the John Worboys case that the Metropolitan Police breached the human rights of John Worboys’ victims by failing to properly investigate reports of his crimes.” I believe that in focusing solely on fatalities and in failing to properly investigate the injuries caused to the many thousands of victims of terrorism, the human rights of terror victims are also being breached.  

As it stands now Sinn Fein and the IRA want us to focus on fatalities only. It’s a relatively small number – certainly when compared to 40,000 injured victims - and helps create a perception that their actions were somehow not quite as bad as many would believe. 

Closer scrutiny is required. In terms of deaths, 90% were the work of terrorist groups and 10% the responsibility of the State. When you factor in the 40,000 victims who were injured but not killed, this would equate to 98% of victims being due to terrorist activity.

I believe, as does my party the Ulster Unionists, that all victims should be catered for and that any victim with life changing injuries as a result of terrorist actions should not be neglected purely because they survived. To put it in context – the deaths of the eleven people who were murdered as they remembered our war dead at Enniskillen in 1987 should be re-examined and so should the fifty people who were injured beside them. The eight soldiers killed in the Ballygawley bus bombing in August 1988 will have their case examined and their families will receive a HIU report – but the other victims, those injured or mentally scared will not. This is neither fair not just. 

It is important to note that the consultation is open to everyone in the U.K. not just those living in Northern Ireland. Over 6,000 soldiers were wounded by terrorist actions. Every one of them should engage with the legacy consultation and they should be encouraged to do so. As should Regimental Associations, military charities, victims’ groups in Birmingham, London and Manchester, and every single family who lost a loved one, whether they were members of the military or civilians. 

I believe that the argument for a Statute of Limitation (SoL) is misguided and will simply give an amnesty to those who created the 40,000 victims. The overwhelming majority of these will be down to terrorist actions. That will include those severely injured in the Birmingham, and Guilford pub bombings, Hyde Park and Regents Park, Deal as well as Warrington and many other places across the UK. This cannot be allowed to happen and MPs must not allow it to happen as Sinn Fein will use such an amnesty to continue their campaign to re-write history, which they have been pursuing for the last 20 years.

What is needed is balanced, transparent justice for all taking into account all those who were victims of the Troubles, not just fatalities. 

Under the 1998 Belfast Agreement, terrorists were released early from prison, and anyone now convicted of a Troubles related crime will receive a reduced sentence of no more than two years. Applying case law, this two-year sentence would also apply to any soldier convicted of a Troubles related crime. 

However, we should bear in mind that between 1998 and 2002 the UK Government gave out 16 Royal Prerogatives of Mercy to terrorists for premeditated crimes including the Docklands bomber and a member of the IRA gang that murdered Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick. This was a process and in the interests of equality and justice, that process should also apply to soldiers who – without pre meditation - may have made a split second decision that is subsequently found to be unlawful, especially when judged from the comfort and relative safety of 2018.

In the foreword to the legacy consultation process the Secretary of State says that legacy proposals must be ‘balanced, fair equitable and crucially, proportionate.’ For the sake of the dead and injured, and all those who stood to fight terrorism, we must hold her to that."  

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