Has politics delivered a year of failure for the victims of the Troubles?

Victims continue to demand truth from Government

Victims continue to demand truth from Government

By Steven McCaffery

IT IS almost a year to the day since Stormont politicians announced a suite of ambitious initiatives to bolster the peace process.

The plan unveiled on May 9, 2013, was a response to the explosion of loyalist violence and unionist anger that had raged for months over restrictions placed on flying the Union flag at Belfast city hall.

First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness promised to tackle community divisions that had persisted despite the wider success of the peace process.

But at the heart of the plan was a pledge to negotiate a settlement on the contentious issues of flags, parades and the legacy of the Troubles.

A year later, the dangerous disputes over parades and flags persist, and it is also clear that victims burdened by horrendous loss have been left in limbo.

Stormont is taking a lot of the flak, but concerns remain about the arms-length role taken by the British and Irish governments.


From day one of the talks led by US diplomat Richard Haass, it was signalled that progress was possible on parades and flags, but not on the major controversy of dealing with the fallout of the decades of violence.

In the end, the talks did not follow the script.

Lobbying by the victims of the Troubles quickly turned the agenda on its head, forcing a focus on devising a framework that could help deliver closure to victims.

A complex infrastructure was mapped out, drawing heavily on the blueprint published in 2009 following an extensive review led by former Church of Ireland Primate Lord Robin Eames and former vice-chair of the policing board Denis Bradley.

But, as we know, the Haass proposals went the same way as the Eames/Bradley report: swept aside in a wave of political recrimination.

Since that failure, victims have suffered fresh trauma.


Families bereaved by IRA violence could be forgiven for feeling as if a veil has been quietly drawn over scores of republican killings, after confirmation of a scheme to reassure more than 200 `On The Run’ republicans that they were not wanted by police.

Politicians claim to have been in the dark, but the issue has been on the political agenda for more than a decade, and in 2009 the Eames/Bradley report estimated “around 200 individuals has been considered by the PSNI and the [Public Prosecution Service] in order that their status can be assessed”.

And while a review has been announced by government, the same Conservative-led administration continued to administer the scheme it inherited from the previous Labour government, with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers confirming “45 individuals have had their cases considered since this government came to power in May 2010”.

In a separate development, Ms Villiers has today ruled out an inquiry into the infamous La Mon hotel bombing of 1978 which killed 12 people, including three married couples, and injured many others.

Some victims of the La Mon attack described the trauma of engaging in an initial police review of the unsolved case, but now their concerns over the disappearance of files on IRA suspects questioned over the fire-bombing will be left to linger.

The Secretary of State today also announced she is refusing to hold a fresh probe into the shooting of 11 civilians by troops in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in 1971, as reported here by The Detail.

The British government had previously said public inquiries were too costly, took too long to complete, and could no longer be seen as a vehicle for examining controversial deaths from the Troubles.

As a result, the Ballymurphy families proposed using the type of independent panel that examined the controversy over the Hillsborough football disaster.

It would be faster, and more cost effective – but now the British government has said no to that as well.

The Irish government backed the Ballymurphy plan in January, which raised the families’ hopes.

Diplomatic relations between Dublin and London were on a high at that time, as the two governments planned the first state visit to the UK of President of Ireland Michael D Higgins.

Now new questions are being raised about the governments’ discussion of the Ballymurphy case and why a joint approach was not possible?

Over the last year, despite a string of other controversies over historic cases, London and Dublin have reaffirmed the need for Stormont politicians to reach final agreement on the Haass proposals on parades, flags and the past.

But relations between the Stormont parties have remained sour.

And the brief optimism that the Haass process could have delivered for victims has turned to disappointment.

The President’s visit to the UK showed that London and Dublin are reveling in their new found `special relationship’.

But victims must wonder if there will ever be a place for them at the table.