Falls Road Belfast Troubles
Northern Ireland

Fears Raised Over Investigations Into Northern Ireland Conflict

Northern Ireland's victims' commissioner said in her recommendations that "transparency is key".

Falls Road Belfast Troubles

A street in Belfast during The Troubles (Picture: PA).

There are fears among Troubles victims and survivors that national security concerns could be used to "hide embarrassment" during contentious investigations into the Northern Ireland conflict, it has been suggested.

Building credibility and gaining the trust of those harmed or bereaved will be a huge issue for proposed new institutions established by the Government to investigate decades of violence, a report from those at the centre of the process said.

Ministers consulted on legislation creating an independent police unit to retrieve evidence, a body recording information which does not lead to prosecutions, and drawing up an oral history archive.

Northern Ireland's victims' commissioner Judith Thompson said in her recommendations that "transparency is key" (Picture: PA).

Northern Ireland's victims' commissioner Judith Thompson said the £150 million set aside by ministers over five years would not be enough to deliver one of the world's most ambitious inquiries into a period known as The Troubles.

She said: "Many victims and survivors have waited decades in a system that has been chronically backlogged, therefore building credibility and gaining trust is a huge challenge for new institutions.

"Transparency is key to this which is why my recommendations address the need to ensure that any application of national security and Official Secrets Act restrictions have strict limitations and a robust appeals process."

About half a million people are victims and survivors of republican, loyalist and state violence during the conflict.

The commissioner called for the UK Government to deliver a co-ordinated approach with the Irish Government in the implementation of forthcoming laws on legacy institutions.

Northern Ireland (Picture: BFBS).
Operation Banner was the British military name for the deployment in Northern Ireland from August 1969 to July 2007.

The victims' advocate added: "The Commission is aware that many victims and survivors do not trust any government and have a lack of confidence in how current systems enable them to access truth, justice and acknowledgment.

"Many believe they have been let down time and time again and have concerns that national security will be used by both Governments (British and Irish) to hide embarrassment or manage uncomfortable issues when the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) is established."

In 2013 the cost of addressing the past in Northern Ireland was estimated at £30 million per year.

Key recommendations and concerns highlighted by the commissioner included:

  • A process should be developed to ascertain and clarify what information the HIU can reasonably require from a relevant authority.
  • Sequencing HIU and ICIR investigations consecutively would effectively remove the option of the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR) from ageing family members who may not feel they have time to wait.
  • The UK Government should establish an ICIR appeals process, similar to the HIU, allowing victims and survivors to challenge decisions to redact information on national security grounds.
  • All deaths should be fully investigated regardless of whether they happened in Northern Ireland, the Republic or Great Britain and authorities north and south of the Irish border should provide necessary resources.