Villiers calls for fresh approach to NI past

Wednesday 16 April 2014 21.41
Theresa Villiers said there must be less focus on the activities of the police and the British security forces
Theresa Villiers said there must be less focus on the activities of the police and the British security forces

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State has said any new process that examines the past in Northern Ireland must have a proportionate focus on the wrongdoing of loyalist and republican paramilitaries.

Theresa Villiers said there must be less focus on the activities of the police and the British security forces.

She said that addressing the legacy of the past had to-date almost exclusively concentrated on the activities of the security forces rather than on the paramilitaries who were responsible for most of the cases.

Speaking in Belfast, Ms Villiers said 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.

She also suggested that most people did not wake up on a Monday morning worrying about the past, flag flying or contentious parades.

The Victims' Commissioner and nationalist politicians have accused the Northern Secretary of displaying insensitivity and offending victims of the conflict.

Commissioner Kathryn Stone cautioned politicians against adopting a simplistic view.

Senior Sinn Féin member Gerry Kelly claimed the government had positioned itself firmly on unionist ground.

He added: "Theresa Villiers's claims that there has been too much focus on state killings stems from the fact that during the conflict state killings and collusion were never properly investigated.

"And the reason so many cases on state killings are now going through the courts is that families are being denied the truth about the murder of their loved ones right up until the present day."

Ms Stone claimed Ms Villiers's comments were: "Insensitive to thousands of victims and survivors who do wake up every morning living with the legacy of the past and fearing what new trauma is around the corner.

"Victims and survivors have given politicians a brave, dignified and progressive lead on what we need to do to address the very real and difficult issue of dealing with the past."

Victims on both sides have demanded justice for the loss of loved ones, while human rights lawyers have argued that truth recovery is vital to help heal deep wounds that still exist in Northern Ireland society.

Five-party political talks broke down before the new year on dealing with controversial parades through neighbourhoods where they are not welcome, the catalyst for serious street violence every summer.

Other issues on the agenda included the flying of Union flags from official buildings and establishing structures to address the past and victims' needs.

Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Nigel Dodds said there had been a disproportionate focus on the past actions of the state and an almost total lack of consideration given to innocent victims of deaths caused by paramilitaries.

"The facts are clear - 90% of deaths in Northern Ireland were caused by paramilitaries, and of those, two-thirds were by republicans.

"The IRA killed more Catholics than either the RUC or the Army, yet there has been a concentration of resources and calls for inquiries on a very small number of deaths."

Thousands were killed or maimed during 30 years of bombings and shootings in Northern Ireland.