As British Secretary of State Brandon Lewis travels to the United States for St Patrick’s week Relatives for Justice CEO Mark Thompson has issued the following briefing to friends in Irish America as issues of concern and questions that might be considered in conversations.
In December 2014 the UK government, in talks with the Irish Government and five main political parties to the North’s power-sharing Executive, agreed a way forward to address the legacy of the past. This came after several initiatives to address the past had been rejected/squandered by the UK and not least the 2009 Report by the Consultative Group on the Past co-chaired by Denis Bradley and Archbishop Robin Eames, and the gallant efforts of US Special Envoy Richard Haass and Professor Meghan O’Sullivan with the “Panel of Parties” in 2013.
Known as the Stormont House Agreement (SHA), this contained four key areas to address legacy; principally a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU). This unit will have full police powers and will be completely independent to the PSNI. The PSNI still contains significant numbers of the old RUC, and consequently the UK courts have consistently deemed it to be not independent. Independent investigation into state killings and collusion has never occurred and the HIU contains the potential to do that.
Since 2014, and given that Article 2 has been central to the debate on the past with an insistence that the UK hold investigations in accordance with their legal obligations under Article 2, there has been the tactic of delay in implementing this legacy agreement and namely the HIU.
Alongside this failure there has been a concerted campaign waged by former British soldiers, many involved in fatal killings, and backbench Tory MP’s, including members of the British cabinet (Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer, himself a former British soldier), falsely claiming that British soldiers are being ‘unfairly treated’ and that there is a ‘witch-hunt’. This extends to claims that investigations and pending prosecutions, of which there are only a few, are ‘vexatious’. This includes Bloody Sunday soldier ‘ F’, Denis Hutchins for the killing of a young teenager, John Pat Cunningham, who had learning disability, British soldier, David Holden, for the killing of Aidan McAnespie and two Parachute members ‘A’ & ‘B’ for the killing of Joe McCann.
On January 14th 2020 Boris Johnston said he would bring forward legislation to protect soldiers from ‘unfair’ prosecutions. It’s not the first time he has said this.
Of course this is a smokescreen in which to evade culpability and to rally the ’troops’, creating opposition to the Rule of Law and constituting direct political interference in the administration of justice and due process. The latter being a matter crucial to peace in Ireland, given the past.
The most recent legacy figures from the PSNI in April 2019 is that their Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) are investigating 1,133 incidents relating to 1,424 deaths.
The overwhelming majority of these relate to killings by republicans and loyalists.
Only a very tiny proportion, as noted above, relate to the British army yet this makes hugely disproportionate noise, propaganda and misinformation.
For the record during the conflict the British army and RUC killed 367 people, over 80 were children. The majority were unarmed and civilian, including two Catholic priests aiding those injured and dying.
Only four British soldiers were ever convicted during the conflict for murder whilst on duty. However, all were released early and reinstated back to their regiments. One was later acquitted. These figures do not include collusion, which by far surpasses the 367 figures of direct killings.
The only people convicted and imprisoned for legacy activity in recent years have been republicans and loyalists.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of collusion and state violence no members of the former RUC or members of the British army have been convicted and imprisoned as part of legacy investigations.
The figures from the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in Belfast also support this fact.
Despite repeated requests by RFJ and from local media in the North of Ireland, including from the Irish Times in Dublin and the BBC in Belfast, no member of the British government can point to one single ‘vexatious’ prosecution when asked. Because there are none. Those questioned include the current British Secretary of State Brendon Lewis, who was also asked this very question recently by David Young of the Press Association.
So why is this claim permitted and why are the facts deliberately ignored?
What does the current British Secretary of State believe?
Does he support fully the Rule of Law and administration of justice?
Does he object to any attempted political interference in the Rule of Law?
Does he really believe that the PSNI and the PPS, which are after all British institutions, are engaged in ‘vexatious’ prosecutions?
Just for the record – the PSNI and the PPS act in the name of the UK Crown (the Queen) and prosecutions are taken in the name of the Crown – i.e. the Crown (R) V’s the defendant.
Are the UK Govt. really saying that the Crown are ‘unfairly’ treating their own soldiers?
Families bereaved by British State violence and RFJ certainly feel that the UK Govt. are giving British soldiers preferential treatment and cover for their crimes under a cloud of misinformation and thus enabling a continuing policy of immunity and impunity when faced with proper Article 2 investigations. This quite apart from abusing the term ‘national security’ to also hamper investigations and protect British soldiers.
100 Day Commitment by the UK to Finally Implement HIU
More recently and as part of the new political agreement to reestablish the power-sharing Executive, the UK govt. committed to the implementation of SHA and to bring forward, within 100 days, legislation giving effect to the HIU. That deadline expires on April 20th and yet there is still no sign of the draft bill.
The issue of legacy is contaminating the PSNI in that they are defending the old RUC and are not independent of the past in terms of the conflict. They are also defending 850 civil litigation cases in the courts regarding legacy. They should not be investigating the past, as Michelle O’Neill recently said.
Investigating the past has exposed the PSNI as being partial. This is totally at odds with seeking support for the PSNI from the very community most affected by the actions of the RUC and the British army in that approximately 92 percent of those killed were from the nationalist Catholic community.
This places future policing in jeopardy at a time when the UK say they are trying to recruit Catholics to the PSNI – it make it impossible. That is also why the implementation of the agreed HIU is imperative in that this moves away entirely the need for the PSNI to be involved in legacy investigations. Or is it that the UK wants, via the PSNI, to retain a grip on the issue of legacy thus preventing truth and justice from emerging?
We are now some 60 days into the 100 day timetable and accordingly the PSNI Chief Constable has yet to see any draft legislation in terms of the implementation of this latest promise to bring forward legislation for the HIU.
Can the British Secretary confirm that the draft bill/legislation will be published and brought forward regarding the HIU by April 20th and that this will be Article 2 compliant providing for proper investigations for families?
Payments Regulations/Legislation for a Pension to those Injured in the Conflict
We also have the situation in which the British appointed Secretary of State will determine who is eligible for a ’troubles’ pension for those physically and psychologically injured.
The published Regulations/Legislation seek to exclude republicans and loyalists who were shot, tortured and wounded, from receiving the pension yet those within the British army and RUC, and indeed in the prison service, all responsible for inflicting human rights violations and colluding with paramilitaries, and yet free from prosecution, can avail of the pension whilst their victims cannot.
Surely this too is wrong?
Further, is it right that the UK should draft legislation and guidelines that exclude some victims whilst promoting others and a British Secretary will seek to try and force the North’s Executive to both implement this policy and also fund it from the devolved budget? A budget already overwhelmed by Tory austerity and falling far short of what is required.
Tens of thousands of former British soldiers and former RUC will seek to apply to this payments scheme, and it is estimated to run into at least a billion pounds sterling. Surely the UK must provide for a fully inclusive payments pension scheme and the UK Treasury must fund it?
It must also be pointed out that despite assurances by the NIO that republicans and other non-State combatants would be eligible for payments this promise too was broken – surely this does not augur well for the new institutions and for reconciliation as the UK and unionists continually seek to criminalise republicans.
RFJ member, Christy Cummings from Tyrone, was shot by loyalists and left paralysed in December 1998. Seamus Dillon was killed in the same attack. Denis Cummings, Christy’s brother was also shot and injured. The three men had been working at a local hotel in Dungannon providing security and staffing the carpark when the sectarian attack took place. They had been shot holding the main door to the hotel closed as the loyalist gunmen sought to gain entry to a teenage disco and and adjoining bar/restaurant. Their actions and sacrifices undoubtedly saved countless lives. Yet Christy will be denied a ’troubles’ payment because he was a former republican prisoner as was Denis. Is this right?
Delay – Finucane & other Article 2 Cases Under Supervision of the European Court
Regarding the outstanding commitment to an independent inquiry into the murder of human rights solicitor Pat Finucane, the UK was asked to provide more information to the Committee of Ministers in Europe, as part of their supervision of the UK regarding a previous European Court ruling in the case. This specific request, that would have been heard this month in Strasbourg, also relates to the recent UK Supreme Court ruling that stated the UK Govt. must hold an Article 2 compliant investigative process. The UK’s Supreme Court didn’t specify precisely how this should take place, which left the door open to an independent inquiry, which the UK Government has continually refused. Of course, the Tory Government and their supporters were critical of the Supreme Court ruling. The Committee of Ministers had to postpone their meeting this month as the UK did not respond to their request, which essentially is: What measures will the UK Government take to comply with its own Supreme Court ruling, February 2019, in the Finucane case?
Does the UK Government accept the ruling of its most powerful court on the Finucane case?
Will the UK Government, finally now implement, in accordance with the UK’s own Supreme Court ruling of February 2019, an independent investigation/inquiry into the murder of human rights attorney Pat Finucane?
 That is Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights – The Right To Life – and the required remedy of prompt, independent, and effective investigation into state killings and where collusion exists