Call for government to look again at Stormont House legacy proposals

Government has been urged to look again at the approach for dealing with Northern Ireland’s troubled past proposed in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.

The call comes after a man whose father was killed in west Belfast in 1974 created his own legacy process by using an interlocutor to secure answers from the UVF.

Paul Crawford worked with Winston Irvine for seven years and secured a report from the UVF answering questions his family had around John’s killing.

Mr Crawford said the process he underwent “won’t be for everyone” but said bereaved families should be able to get answers.

He drew comparisons with the legacy proposals in the Stormont House Agreement in 2014 which involved interlocutors liaising with paramilitary groups.

He also called the government’s proposed legacy Bill – which would give people immunity in exchange for information on Troubles crimes as well as halting future court processes – “fantasy island”.

The Stormont House Agreement included provisions to establish a range of mechanisms, including a cross-border Independent Commission on Information Recovery, to facilitate those seeking information from organisations with “corporate knowledge” of the death of their loved ones.

Mr Crawford said: “I know that not every victim would want to engage in the kind of process in which I have been involved for that last number of years and of course no-one should ever pressurise them to do so.

“That was the beauty of the mechanism proposed in the Stormont House Agreement.

“It provided for investigations but it also provided victims with a choice to engage in exactly this kind of interlocutor process to armed groups in which I have been involved and which has delivered for me.”

Professor Kieran McEvoy from the Queen’s University said it should not be up for victims to have to go to find answers themselves.

A copy of a report by Queens University Belfast into the murder of John Crawford
A copy of a report by Queens University Belfast into the murder of John Crawford (Liam McBurney/PA)

“I pay testament to Paul’s courage and tenacity to have initiated and seen this process through – but victims should not have to do that. It is the responsibility of the state to provide such mechanisms and the state has failed Paul and thousands of other victims,” he said.

“As was recognised in the Stormont House Agreement, in addition to proper investigations one of the ways in which information can be gleaned is from the groups themselves that are responsible for past violence.

“Information can only be accessed in this way if there are armed groups who have the political will and the capacity to provide that information and if there are effective mechanisms – such as through the work of an interlocutor.

“The Stormont House Agreement provided victims with a range of options, including engaging via interlocutors with armed groups – in exactly the way that Paul has done in this case.

“While the current UK legacy Bill has been rightly castigated for closing down victims’ access to the courts, its lack of proper investigative powers and the amnesty scheme, that Bill has also seen the UK Government abandon the interlocutor process which was agreed to in the Stormont House Agreement and in a treaty between the UK and Irish governments.

“Sadly, the people who will suffer most as a result of the abandoning of the Stormont House Agreement in the current legacy legislation are those victims who could otherwise have gained information from armed groups, as Paul has done.”