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24th-Sep-2015 03:26 pm - Freedom of Information request into ‘deal on the past’ refused

**Idiocy and doublespeak in the North, as usual.

Eamon Sweeney
Derry Journal
24 Sept 2015
**Photos and video on-site

A Freedom of Information request to view draft proposals on how deal with the legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict has been refused, the ‘Journal’ can reveal.

The news comes as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers yesterday confirmed that, as had been previously been suspected victims’ relatives, that those guilty of Troubles-related murders will be able to confess and then walk free. Victims’ relatives will also not be notified that any such disclosures will have been made.

The Secretary of State said that in order to encourage perpetrators to come forward structures agreed during the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) last year will mean confessions will not be made known to victims’ and that any information given over will not be admissable in legal proceedings.

However, Theresa Villiers said that confessors could still face prosecution if evidence comes to light from other avenues.

It has also been confirmed that the five political parties in the Stormont Executive-DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance, as well as the British and Irish Governments all agreed to these proposals last December as part of the SHA negotiations.

Yet, according to the Secretary of State the proposals do not amount to a general amnesty for those on all sides who carried out murders during the Troubles.

“There is no amnesty in this paper. There won’t be an amnesty in the bill, an amnesty was rejected by the Northern Ireland parties during the Stormont House talks-that is not the right way forward,” she said.

Legislation setting the way forward in respect of dealing with the past is expected to come before Parliament this autumn.

However, a Freedom of Information request seeking to view the nature of the proposals has been refused by Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice.

The request to Department of Justice asked for a copy of the draft proposals regarding dealing with the past within the SHA.

In response, the Department of Justice gave reasons for and against the disclosure of the proposals.

In the end, and despite obvious public interest on the issue, the request was however refused even though the refusal notes that the upcoming proposals could have a significant effect on the general public.

The Department of Justice said: “Private space is required to enable the Stormont House Implementation group to debate and explore the full range of policies and options arising in the Stormont House Agreement.

“Releasing information about policies is likely to prejudice such development and subsequent implementation and could allowed targeted lobbying by certain groups that could inhibit objective decisions being made.

“Disclosure could compromise future consultation and thwart the exchange of ideas.

“Although the proposed policies will involve changes which could have a significant effect on the general public, the disclosure of the information may have an adverse effect on the policy makers in that they would be less likely to provide full and frank advice or opinions on policy proposals.”

The response to the Freedom of Information request also noted that “invitations have been extended to relevant parties to participate in bilateral meetings regarding the establishment of the Historical Inquiries Unit and changes to legacy inquests.”

The response concludes: “It is our view that public interest in protecting the policy making activities outweighs the public interest in releasing the information.”

Relatives of Derry victim’s of the Troubles have long noted their suspicions that a final deal in dealing with the past will however amount to an amnesty for killers.

Kate Nash, whose brother William was shot dead by members of the British Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday and who father Alex was severely wounded coming to his son’s aid recently told the ‘Journal’: “We are just collateral damage to them. We cannot let them dismiss the pain our father suffered after the murder of our brother William.

“Every single party has betrayed us. It is being denied that this is an amnesty, but that is what it is.”

The Northern Ireland Office had recently dismissed what has now been confirmed as accurate by the Secretary of State as “grossly misleading and highly irresponsible reporting”.

Theresa Villiers has however said that plans on how to deal with the past will not be activated until political resolution is found at Stormont, in particular on welfare reform. The policy paper outlined by Ms Villiers also contains proposed legislation required for an oral archive to document the history of the conflict.
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8th-Jan-2014 03:54 am - Not one life was worth losing during Troubles, says former INLA man

Gemma Murray
News Letter
8 Jan 2014

Former INLA volunteer Tony O’Hara, whose brother Patsy was the fourth republican to die in the 1981 hunger strike, yesterday said that during the Troubles “not one life was worth it”.

The 57-year-old, who spent five years in prison for INLA activities, said “nothing will be achieved by the current republican [dissident] campaign apart from filling up jails”.

Tony O'Hara

“They [dissidents] need to realise that,” he added. “Even years ago when I was involved I had difficulty about taking life. But then it seemed a necessary part of the war.

“If they continue it is a waste of their time and only inflicts hardship on a community that is already under terrible hardship from the economy and everything else.

“What they [dissidents] are doing at the moment is going nowhere. When we look back all the people who lost their lives, and those who were injured and hurt in attacks and bombings everywhere, it achieved nothing.”

The former blanketman, who was the cell mate of the first republican prisoner to die on hunger strike, Bobby Sands, added that “all those lives were lost and it wasn’t worth it”.

“Hindsight is a great thing,” he added. “Myself and my friends were prepared to die so that Ireland would be free. But what was I prepared to die for?”

He added that “nothing will be achieved [by dissident republicans] by fighting on apart from misery”.

“Nothing can be achieved for the next 20 years, if they keep going, apart from more people going into jails.

“There is no difference between what the Provos were fighting for and what they [dissidents] are fighting for.

“But the big difference is the lack of support from the community. It is not there any more. If you look back in the history of Sinn Fein from 1975/76 you see headlines like ‘Smash Stormont’.

“Now years later the same members are in government there. They [Sinn Fein] keep on using the word dissidents, but the Provos were the largest dissident group going.

“They left the IRA. For them to use the word dissidents when they themselves were dissidents is laughable.

“They use the word like it is a dirty word.”

Mr O’Hara said that is why he did not use the term.

The Derry man, who joined the INLA in 1975 when the IRA went on a temporary four-month ceasefire, added he “never had any hope for the Haass talks”.

“When you get people who are so entrenched in their position there is no chance of them moving on.”

Tony O’Hara is the sixth former senior republican and blanketman to speak to the News Letter calling for dissidents to examine the history of the Troubles and rethink their campaign.

In recent weeks former senior Provisional IRA man Tommy Gorman said “a group of us have been making this point about dissidents for a long, long time”.

Earlier, former hunger striker Gerard Hodgins asked dissident republicans to “try and come up with a non-violent alternative because there is no appetite or support for a violent conflict in this country among any significant number of the population”.

Former Provo Tommy McKearney said he believed dissident republican violence was bolstering Sinn Fein support.

And in the first of the series former senior IRA men Anthony McIntyre and Richard O’Rawe branded the ongoing dissident campaign as “madness” and called for them to stop.

Mr McIntyre said: “Republicans lost the war and the IRA campaign failed and the dissidents need to be told that it failed rather then be allowed to continue thinking what they do. It cost so many lives.”

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