Skip to main content

Northern Ireland: Legacy Agreement

Volume 778: debated on Tuesday 24 January 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the remarks by Lord Dunlop on 18 January (HL Deb, col 218) that the “current situation is unsatisfactory”, what action they are taking to implement the legacy package of the Stormont House Agreement.

My Lords, the current situation is unsatisfactory, focusing disproportionately on the 10% of deaths caused by the police and Armed Forces rather than on the 90% caused by terrorists. This Government are committed to implementing the legacy bodies proposed in the Stormont House agreement to ensure a balanced, proportionate and fair approach to addressing Northern Ireland’s past. The Secretary of State has regularly met political parties, victims and their representatives on these issues, and will continue to do so ahead of taking the proposals to a public phase.

My Lords, I am delighted with the response from my noble friend the Minister. Successive Governments, over several decades, sent soldiers, including myself, to Northern Ireland to protect the population from terrorism and violence, be they Catholic or Protestant. Now, some 40 years and more later, old soldiers are being dragged before courts, although there is no new evidence against them. Given the lack of devolved government at the moment, could not Her Majesty’s Government impose the legacy package of the Stormont House agreement—after all, it has been agreed—leading to more proportionate legacy investigations? Secondly, in the particular case of Dennis Hutchins, which my noble friend may not wish to mention, he has been investigated on several occasions—the last time in 2013. He has been told that there is no case to answer, including by a previous Director of Public Prosecutions. Can the Minister perhaps explain how it can be that he is now being dragged before courts at the age of 75, when all his defence witnesses—former soldiers—have died?

First, I recognise my noble friend’s great experience of these matters, having himself served, as he said, in the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland and as a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office. We remain unstinting in our admiration and support for the police and the Armed Forces. We clearly want to build consensus on the way forward on how to deal with the past. I do not think that it would be right to impose. We want to build that consensus, and that is what we will focus on in the weeks ahead.

My Lords, in dealing with the past, the Labour Party totally agrees with the Minister that there has to be a consensus. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that, on balance, party contacts with Ministers during an election could prove too difficult. But the Secretary of State and his team should use the time, along with the Irish Government as guarantors, to prepare for a full reinstatement of Stormont. There is nothing more important than the restoration of Stormont so that the legacy issue can be carried forward with agreement. Does the Minister also agree that the Secretary of State should instigate proposals to facilitate this and be a driver in this process?

Re-establishing a fully functioning Executive after the election is an absolute priority for the Government. As I have said in this House many times before, we will leave no stone unturned to achieve that. Dealing with legacy is absolutely one of those issues where we require fully functioning devolved institutions. We need to build on the discussions that the Secretary of State has already had with the political parties so that we can move forward as soon as we can after the election.

My Lords, amid the political turmoil and lack of decorum in the Northern Ireland Assembly and among its politicians, will the Government ensure their full support for Secretary of State Brokenshire in his responsibility to prevent Barra McGrory being allowed to intimidate and threaten the press, hence hindering people like me by the supposedly confidential instructions he has issued from his office? I point out for the benefit of those who do not know that Barra McGrory is the Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions, was a one-time adviser to Adams and McGuinness and was the person who advocated that IRA terrorists should not be prosecuted for historical crimes.

The DPP is independent, and prosecutorial decisions are independently taken. I do not think it would be right for me to comment further.