Political news

Michelle O'Neill: The British government has treated people with contempt

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill described Karen Bradley's remarks about state killings as "odious". Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

WHATEVER chink of light was provided by the belated announcement of funding for legacy inquests was quickly snuffed out by Karen Bradley's odious remarks this week.

The British government has treated people with contempt.

It took years of political pressure, requests from the Lord Chief Justice and a landmark High Court ruling to force it to release funding for inquests covering almost 100 deaths.

Any goodwill from that decision was shattered by Karen Bradley.

Since the 2014 Stormont House Agreement to deal with legacy issues, the British government has adopted a strategy of delay, denial and deflection.

The British government doesn't want the truth of the state's role in the conflict to be fully exposed.

Legacy inquest funding will only be effective if accompanied by full and prompt disclosure of all relevant information and material by the PSNI and British Ministry of Defence.

Recent experience does not breed confidence that will happen.

The PSNI's disclosure practices have led to a serious deterioration in public confidence within the nationalist/republican community on their handling of legacy matters.

This has implications for current policing.

We cannot allow current policing to suffer as a consequence of the British government's stalling on legacy.

The PSNI must urgently disengage, as recognised by the PSNI Chief Constable, from servicing legacy inquests and litigation or conducting conflict-related investigations.

This requires the prompt implementation and adequate resourcing of human rights-compliant legacy mechanisms, allowing the PSNI to focus on current policing with the community.

The British government should also adequately resource the Police Ombudsman's office.

It must identify a timeframe for the draft bill, signed off in July 2017, to be legislated for at Westminster.

The mechanisms have been delayed for five years now. No further discussion is required.

It is the responsibility of the British government to process the legislation. This legislative option was agreed by all the parties.

Families have waited too long for independent investigations, human rights-compliant inquests, information retrieval, storytelling, a pension or special payment for all those seriously injured, and high-quality support services for all those impacted by our conflict.

The draft legislation is not perfect but it is the best formula for dealing with our past. Any attempt to tamper with its key principles, to legalise immunity for crown forces or undermine its human rights framework will lead to its unravelling and ultimate demise.

Similarly, the current definition of a victim was arrived at through consensus and provides the basis for fair and equitable provision. It cannot be rewritten to satisfy the demands of the DUP or anyone else.

Dealing with legacy remains one of the most challenging aspects of our peace and political process. Karen Bradley's remarks have made it more painful, especially for grieving families.

Repairing the damage done to public confidence in a legacy process will take time and a lot of hard work and effort.

The only way to begin that process is by ending the stalling and finally putting the legacy mechanisms in place.

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