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Northern Ireland Secretary Says Just "One Or Two" People Might Cooperate With New Troubles Legacy Body

3 min read

It is possible that just a small handful of people, maybe "one or two", will agree to cooperate with a new body being set up by the government to deal the legacy of The Troubles, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has said.

But he believes that that would still be a worthwhile outcome as it would mean "one or two more families" learning the truth about how their loved ones were killed during the conflict. 

Last month the government tabled long-awaited legislation that it says will provide the best way of dealing with the many hundreds of unresolved killings carried out during The Troubles. 

Ministers have been under pressure to come up with a way of best serving the families of victims, while also delivering on the Conservative party manifesto pledge to end what they believe to be "vexatious" prosecutions of Army veterans accused of committing unlawful killings during the 30-year conflict.

Under the proposals, which are opposed by Northern Ireland's political parties, accused individuals will be able to secure immunity from prosecution if they agree to comply with a new, truth-seeking body called the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.

The body, which Lewis has vowed to set up by May 2023, is designed to help families of victims find information about how their people were killed through research and interviews with suspects.

The government argues this is the right approach because the current system of taking Troubles suspects to court is resulting in a very small number of prosecutions, with permissible evidence getting increasingly difficult to come by as time goes by. 

While it is strongly opposed by the Irish government and the Labour party, it has received the backing of Jonathan Powell, who as former prime minister Tony Blair's chief of staff played an important role in the brokering of the Good Friday peace deal in 1998. It has also won the support of some Conservative MPs who opposed an earlier version of the plan.

In an interview with The House Magazine, Lewis said he hoped the commission would be led by a "high-calibre" senior judge who you would see in the running to be Metropolitan Police Commissioner or a chief constable, and made up of legal figures with international experience. 

Once set up, the body could contact people "who have never been contacted before" and unearth new information about unresolved Troubles crimes as a result, Lewis said. 

He added that the nature of this new process might persuade people who for decades have refused to disclose information, to finally come foward.

"There is the possibility that there might be a handful of people out there, or whatever number of people – an ex-IRA activist went to the newspapers just before Christmas and said this – who are at an age and stage in their life where they've decided that with this kind of structure, they will come forward," the secretary of state said.

But Lewis said he "can't say that's going to be lots and lots of people" who agree to participate, and that it in the end it may only lead to "one or two" coming forward to talk.

"But even if it's only one or two," he said, "that's still one or two more families who are going to get information and get to the truth of a case that they otherwise never would do. That is worth achieving".

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