Publication of the report of the Bloody Sunday inquiry has been long-awaited and it promises to be a hugely significant event in Northern Ireland’s history. But this is also an occasion that will have an enormous impact on the private lives of ordinary people. I am determined to ensure that arrangements for publication are fair and reasonable, and at all times, I intend to act reasonably in recognition of the interests of the families, soldiers and others involved in the inquiry, and of my obligations to Parliament.
I am responsible for publication of the tribunal’s report, once it is delivered to me. I am advised that I have a duty, as a public authority under the Human Rights Act, to act in a way that is compatible with the European convention on human rights (ECHR). To fulfil this duty, I need to take steps to satisfy myself that publication of the report will not breach article 2 of the convention by putting the lives or safety of individuals at risk. I am advised that these obligations must be met by me personally, in my capacity as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Although the inquiry is also a public authority under the Human Rights Act, I am not entitled to rely on the inquiry to satisfy my article 2 obligations and I have a duty to assess this myself. I also have a duty to satisfy myself that publication will not put national security at risk, for example by disclosing details of sources of confidential information.
During the course of the inquiry, the Government submitted to the tribunal some material that was relevant to its work but which was too sensitive to be disclosed publicly, usually because it contained information which had been provided to the security forces by individuals. If these individuals could be identified from the details they provided it would endanger their lives. This was explained to the tribunal in public interest immunity certificates signed by Ministers, which the tribunal accepted. I understand that the tribunal does not intend to refer to any material covered by public interest immunity certificates, but I have a duty to satisfy myself before publication that none of this material has inadvertently been revealed in the report. The tribunal also agreed that the identities of a small number of individuals who were engaged on highly sensitive duties should not be disclosed and I need to be assured that these individuals have not been identified.
I intend to establish a very small team of officials and legal advisers to assist me in carrying out this necessary exercise. The team will need to include members drawn from the Ministry of Defence and the Security Service, who are familiar with the material covered by the public interest immunity certificates, but they will be granted access to the report under strict terms of confidentiality and for the sole purpose of carrying out the necessary checks, and they will report directly to me alone. For the avoidance of doubt, and contrary to some press reports, I want to make absolutely clear that this team will not include any legal representatives of the soldiers who were interested parties at the inquiry. In response to a proposal made by some of the families of those killed and wounded on Bloody Sunday, Lord Saville has agreed that this team can carry out the necessary checks on the inquiry’s premises while the report remains in his custody, before it is submitted to me. I have confirmed to Lord Saville that I am content with this proposal. I understand that the report will be made available for checking some time this week.
I believe that these checks are absolutely necessary in order to meet the legal obligations on me. I have listened to the concerns raised with me by representatives of the families of those killed or injured on Bloody Sunday and I have sought to find ways to address those concerns. With this in mind, in addition to supporting the proposal made by the families that the checks take place while the report remains in the custody of Lord Saville, I have also sought Lord Saville’s permission to allow counsel to the inquiry to be present during the checking process. He has agreed to this in principle, making it clear that they will be acting as representatives of the inquiry and not as advisers to me, or those who are reporting to me.
I want to publish the report in its entirety. Should any concerns about the safety of any individual arise, my first course of action would be to consider whether these can be addressed through alternative means. Were I to reach the conclusion, on advice, that a redaction to the text might be necessary, I would consult Lord Saville. In the very unlikely event that any redaction were deemed necessary, my intention would be to make this clear on the face of the report.
Once the checking process is complete, a publication date can be set and the report can be printed. The report will be published for this House, in response to an Order for a Return which I will invite the House to make. It is, of course, possible that a general election might be called in the meantime. Lord Saville has informed me that if it becomes clear that it will not be possible for the report to be published in advance of the Dissolution of Parliament, the tribunal will agree to retain custody of the report until after the general election.
The report must be published first for this House, but I acknowledge the importance of this inquiry’s findings in the lives of a large number of individuals and I have received the consent of the Speaker to facilitate a period of advance sight on the day of publication to those most directly affected by the report’s contents. I will seek to offer advance sight on the day of publication to one representative of each of the families designated as full interested parties to the inquiry and to their legal representatives, without distinction between the families of those killed and of those wounded. Equal arrangements for advance sight will be offered to those soldiers most centrally involved in the subject matter of the inquiry. In keeping with practice for other public inquiries, some Members of this House will also be granted a period of advance sight on the day of publication to enable them to respond to the oral statement which I propose to make to this House on the day the report is published.
I am grateful to the Speaker for his acceptance of the proposals which I have made in relation to advance sight. I will write to Lord Saville, legal representatives of interested parties, the leaders of political parties and others as necessary to confirm arrangements as soon as possible.