Villiers calls for new process to deal with Northern Ireland’s past

In a speech today, Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers will call for a new process to deal with Northern Ireland's past.

In a wide ranging speech to be delivered in Belfast today, Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers will call for a new process to address legacy issues, with a “proportionate focus on the wrongdoing of paramilitaries”.

Arguing that so far too great an emphasis has been placed on wrongdoing committed by the state, she will use the speech to explain:

“At least with a new process, agreed by Northern Ireland’s political leaders, there is scope to write in, from the start, the need for an objective balance and with proper weight and a proportionate focus on the wrongdoing of paramilitaries… rather than the almost exclusive concentration on the activities of the state which characterises so many of the processes currently under way.”

Calling for a new process of dealing with the past to be “balanced, transparent and accountable”, she will continue:

“There are, of course, some who believe that the best way to deal with the past is to forget it. I understand that sentiment…but as the On the Run controversy has demonstrated, I don’t believe that’s a viable option.”

Pointing out that the Northern Ireland executive now spends over £30 million a year on legacy issues, she will argue that the status quo simply is not sustainable. She will tell her audience made up of representatives of the four main Churches today:

“The need for a fresh approach on the past is becoming ever more vital because of the increasing pressure the status quo is placing on Northern Ireland’s institutions… with inquests, cases in Strasbourg, freedom of information requests and Troubles-related investigations by the police and police ombudsman.”

In a wide ranging speech, Villiers will also criticise Sinn Fein and the SDLP for blocking moves to enable the National Crime Agency in Northern Ireland to undertake police operations and recruit agents. Explaining that the chief constable of Northern Ireland would control the Agency if nationalists can be persuaded to its deployment across Northern Ireland, she will say:

“To me, it is deeply regrettable that despite months of talks and a real willingness by David Ford (Northern Ireland’s justice minister) and the Home Office to be flexible … some parties remain opposed to the legislation needed to allow the NCA to operate with its full range of powers here. That means Northern Ireland’s ability to fight some of the most despicable crimes is weakened.

“Be in no doubt, it may have ‘national’ in its name but the UK government completely accepts the crucial importance of ensuring that NCA’s operations in Northern Ireland are fully consistent with the devolution settlement.

“That’s why the home secretary has agreed a number of significant changes to provide the necessary assurance and guarantee the primacy of the chief constable.”

The speech, entitled ‘Moving Politics Forward’, will also see the secretary of state arguing that moves should be made towards establishing a fully functioning opposition at Stormont to enable the people of Northern Ireland to be given with genuine electoral choices.

Whilst making clear that the UK government would not do anything to undermine the principles of the Good Friday Agreement which enshrine power-sharing and inclusivity when forming an executive, she will nonetheless argue:

“Political institutions the world over adapt and change. As the founding father of modern Conservatism… the Irishman Edmund Burke… once put it: ‘A State without the means of change is without means of preservation’. And there are inherent weaknesses in a system in which it is very difficult to remove one’s rulers by voting and to choose a viable alternative.

“This government is clear that we would welcome moves that facilitate a more normal system at Stormont that allows for formal opposition, so long as a way can be found to do this which is consistent with power-sharing and inclusivity.

“But we also believe that if or how this happens really has to be primarily for parties in the Assembly to take forward, not least because it is so firmly within the Assembly’s competence to deal with those matters that might characterise an opposition.”

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