Northern Ireland news

UK government unilateral plan simultaneously scraps Historical Investigations Unit and revives 'Troubles museum'

Nelson Mandela during the General Election in 1994 in South Africa which marked the end of apartheid. Picture by PA Photo/South Africa Tourism/ Rex Features

THE British government's unilateral plan will simultaneously scrap the £150 million investigative unit into Troubles deaths signed off in the Stormont House Agreement while reviving the previously divisive prospect of a conflict museum.

Whitehall sources confirmed to the London Times it will end the commitment to the Historical Inquiries Unit agreed in the 2014 deal which saw power-sharing return.

The unit was to have examined Troubles-related killings, including those carried out by the RUC and British soldiers.

However, it has never come into force, with DUP leader Arlene Foster last year calling on Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to "revisit" its scope.

She pressed for the change just a month after the `New Decade, New Approach' deal - returning power-sharing for a second time - included a UK government pledge to introduce legislation to pass the legacy deal within 100 days.

Unionists oppose the unit over concerns it will lead to British army veterans being investigated decades after they believed they were cleared.

Ian Knox cartoon 7/5/21 

According to briefings, it will now be replaced with a so-called `Nelson Mandela-style truth and reconciliation process with "those on all sides... encouraged to come forward to talk about historical events without risk of prosecution".

Julian Lewis, former chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said "what was good enough for Mandela should be good enough for us".

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa was established two years after the end of apartheid, with witnesses identified as victims of gross human rights violations invited to give statements about their experiences and perpetrators able to give testimony and request amnesty from prosecution.

In Northern Ireland it is now 23 years since the Good Friday agreement provided a coda to the Troubles era.

The new process introduced will focus on "information retrieval and recovery, in a bid to offer some closure to families of victims" and will be used by a new legacy commission "to report on individual deaths to fulfil human rights obligations, according to reports.

The Times says Mr Lewis is "in discussions" about building a `truth discovery' museum in the border areas to "move talks away from a `criminal debate to a historical debate'".

Its source said there will be an `oral history initiative' with a "concerted effort to hear voices that had not been heard before".

Attempts at such `reconciliation' projects have hit the buffers before, with £18m approved by the EU for a peace centre withdrawn in 2019 due to disagreements between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

The Maze Long Kesh Development Corporation was forced to `set aside' plans for a peace centre at the site of the former prison near Lisburn which housed paramilitary inmates during the Troubles.

It was the scene of the republican hunger strikes in 1981 in which 10 died, including Bobby Sands.

Efforts to build the visitor attraction as part of redevelopment of the grounds which once housed the high-security jail were stalled in 2013 by former First Minister Peter Robinson over concerns about the symbolism of the site building, with some saying it would 'create a shrine to terrorism'.

The DUP withdrew support, with Mr Robinson saying there was no consensus on how it would operate saying "unionists just do not believe Sinn Féin is committed to creating and maintaining this kind of genuinely neutral shared space at the Maze".

It followed tensions over the removal of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall on all but designated days and the naming of a play park after a dead IRA man.

The Titanic Quarter in Belfast was suggested as one alternative site.

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