US Help for Families Is Needed

Mark Thompson

Victims’ Relatives Need American Help Now to Break British Embargo on Justice

Relatives for Justice wish to thank the Irish Echo for publishing this article in full.

Failure by the UK government, supported by the DUP, in dealing with the legacy of the past is at the centre of the current political crisis in the North of Ireland. Denying rights instead of defending and upholding the rights of families bereaved through the conflict – namely those affected by official UK State collusion and direct violence – is increasingly the norm as part of the ‘peace process’. That is precisely why the late Martin McGuinness called time on this approach accusing the Tory government and DUP of colluding in denying families their right to accountability in which they use their sovereignty as a shield against open and transparent forms of accountable justice. Their more recent political pact at Westminster is an open display of this approach.

American pressure on the British is now critical if we are ever to break the deadlock and get justice for relatives of victims.

The denial of the fundamental rights to truth and justice has been coupled with a blatant refusal by the UK and the DUP to provide funding to the coroners court in order that legacy inquests into conflict related killings can be held. This request was made by the North’s most prominent legal figure, the Lord Chief Justice (LCJ) Sir Declan Morgan who oversees the function and administration of the courts. The LCJ’s request forms part of his review and plans to enable inquests to be held for scores of families from across the community who have waited decades to hear precisely what happened to their loved ones.

There is also the matter of Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) Chief Constable being in violation of several recent High Court orders demanding he hand over material in cases of direct and indirect (collusion) State killings. His actions are unacceptable.

There is a partial, partisan and political approach by the State concerning the legacy of the past that is damaging public confidence in the criminal justice system not least policing, which many now worry is beyond repair. Alongside Brexit this threatens the wider peace accord.

The office of the Police Ombudsman, the public body specifically tasked under the Good Friday Agreement to ensure an effective, independent complaints system into police misconduct, has had its budget decimated despite the caseload of several hundred conflict killings, each meeting the ‘grave and exceptional’ threshold, being lodged in which alleged/evidential police collusion exists. UK and unionist vested interests simply hollow out sound institutions or pull the purse strings rendering them unable to function effectively.

The British government and the DUP refuse to implement previous compromise agreements made at Stormont House in December 2015 around dealing with the legacy of the past. Instead they have erected a barrier to progress in the form of a ‘national-security’ veto. Former Irish government Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan described this move as ‘a smothering blanket’ to conceal the truth.

There has been the removal of over a million British government documents from the public archives, released under the 30-year rule, many providing insight into the political, military and security activities of the UK government in the North of Ireland during the conflict.

Alongside this the Tory/DUP axis seeks legislation at Westminster through a ‘statute of limitations’ on prosecutions – a selective amnesty – for members of its armed forces involved in hundreds of killings.

An emerging pattern is clear, should it ever be required, illustrating a State determined that truth should not be revealed through any official investigative process. A process that would undoubtedly provide much historical clarification and correction countering decades of British and unionist propaganda about who actually were the ‘bad guys’.

British/unionist intransigence and bad faith are nothing new but they can be addressed with patience, persistence and pressure. The history of the peace process tells us that when the US is engaged – not least Irish-America – this results in progress.

On January 9th the Ancient Order of Hibernians will host a series of meetings on the East Coast briefing and updating Irish-America on these issues.

As CEO of Relatives for Justice I am asking for much needed American help at this critical time from as many of you as possible to get justice for victims.

As the British seek to deflect their responsibility casting themselves as neutral in seeking fresh talks aimed at reestablishing the political institutions the following three points must be agreed in advance as a measure of good faith given the extent of bad faith thus far. Otherwise the talks are pointless.

  • No amnesties – No statute of limitations
  • Full implementation of the legacy mechanisms agreed by all parties and both governments at Stormont House 2015
  • Provision of funds requested by the Lord Chief Justice for legacy inquests
As published in the Irish Echo 03 January 2018