Theresa Villiers, who implements British Direct Rule in Ireland, has set out a sharply pro-unionist agenda for her government in dealing with the past conflict in the Six Counties.
Her call for greater ‘focus’ to be put on past IRA actions, rather than the war-crimes of the British state, comes as victims of collusion increasingly demand justice and a genuine truth recovery process.
Villiers claimed efforts to address the legacy of the conflict had almost exclusively concentrated on the activities of the British forces. She said any new initiatives for dealing with the past needed a “proportionate focus on the wrongdoing of paramilitaries”.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said the British Secretary of State had “unashamedly jumped on to a unionist agenda”.
“Her comments on the past are deeply offensive to the hundreds of victims of state killings and loyalist collusion,” he said. “Many of these killings were ordered from the very top of the British establishment during the Thatcher era.”
Villiers’s comments came as 32 families began a mass legal action over collusion by the state with loyalists in murders in the North during the 1970s. Writs have already been brought in test cases.
LIVING WITH THE PAST
On the 20th anniversary of her murder, the family of a Catholic woman shot dead by loyalists announced they are going to bring a case against the British state in regard to collusion.
Teresa Clinton was killed in a gun attack on her south Belfast home in April 1994. Lawyers for her widower, Jim, said High Court writs have been issued against the British Ministry of Defence and the RUC (now the PSNI). They claim damages for misfeasance, negligence, breach of statutory duty and conspiracy to injury.
Mrs Clinton was watching television when loyalist paramilitaries smashed a window at her house off the lower Ormeau Road and opened fire. Her children were in the house when she was killed. Although Mr Clinton, a former Sinn Féin election candidate, was not present, it is believed he was the death squad’s target.
A report into the assassination of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane is said to back this up. The legal action will centre on whether British military intelligence knew and, if so, what was done to warn the family.
In her keynote speech, Villiers said: “Let’s face it, the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland don’t wake up on a Monday morning worrying about the past, flags or parades.”
The Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone, who announced this week that she is leaving the post, condemned the remarks. She said Villiers’s comments were “insensitive to thousands of victims and survivors who do wake up every morning living with the legacy of the past and fearing what new trauma is around the corner”.
Relatives for Justice Director said Villiers’ comments “expose a purely self-serving political approach to the past that seeks to divert and shield the British government from its legal obligations concerning State violence and collusion”.
He said the past number of weeks demonstrated that the agenda of an “old guard approach” by the British authorities was “very much alive” – an agenda that continually pursues non-State actors to the conflict whist continuing to protect their own within State forces. This is unacceptable.
“Families have repeatedly asked why there has been no arrests of British soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday, MRF or former Special Branch involved in collusion and murder. This stands in stark contrast to other arrests.”