Northern Ireland

Archbishop of Canterbury `not chairing legacy process' - Lambeth Palace

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Picture by Yui Mok/PA Wire
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Picture by Yui Mok/PA Wire

LAMBETH Palace has denied that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is chairing a `legacy process' after Troubles victims discovered they had been excluded from a meeting between senior loyalist and republican figures and members of the British defence and intelligence services on the issue

Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United revealed the names of those who attended a meeting at the archbishop's official London residence which he branded a "new legacy forum".

A spokesman for the Anglican leader described it as a single "seminar" that was not instigated by him.

"At the request of a group from Northern Ireland the Archbishop of Canterbury hosted a seminar at Lambeth Palace to discuss a presentation from a team of academics at Queen's University on the legacy of the Troubles," he said.

"This was the same presentation they had given to the Northern Ireland Victims Forum in Northern Ireland earlier in the year.

"Lambeth Palace is regularly used for such external events and as this was a private event we have no further comment to make."

He would not confirm whether a second meeting is scheduled later this month.

Among those understood to have attended have been Jon Boutcher, former police chief in charge of several Troubles-related investigations, leading republican Sean (Spike) Murray, loyalist spokesman Winston 'Winky' Irvine and "senior military officers from both Northern Ireland and the wider MOD", as well as QUB academic Kieran McAvoy, former Commissioner for Victims and Survivors Judith Thompson and Irish government representatives.

Sinn Féin said Mr Murray was "representing the party".

The seminar is understood to be separate from a February meeting between UVF members and representatives of the British government and intelligence services at Lambeth Palace..

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Office rejected the description of "secret talks", saying it "is listening to people from all communities, victims and survivors regarding legacy issues, and is committed with our Irish partners to seek a way forward for everyone".

Prof McAvoy confirmed, while he would "never like to assume who is a victim", there was no one there officially representing that point of view, describing it as an "academic seminar exploring an options paper".

Mr Donaldson said "innocent victims and survivors of terrorism constituency won't be railroaded by a political agenda".

UUP justice spokeswoman Doug Beattie said the revelations "will be of concern to anyone who is interested in openness and transparency".

A DUP spokesman said it "only recently became aware of this meeting" and "were not invited to, nor have we been involved in this, or any of these meetings".

"Ultimately it will be for the political parties, HM Government and victims to determine how we move forward on legacy", he said, adding "legacy issues can only be dealt with in a victims-centred manner".

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said "the focus of the seminar was on the Stormont House Agreement", the implementation of which "offers the best way forward to dealing with the legacy of our past".