UK govt to increase engagement with victims of Troubles

The UK government has pledged to “intensify” engagement with victims’ groups in addressing the legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict.

The system for releasing Troubles-related information is not working and the “divisive” cycle of reinvestigations and civil action is failing to obtain answers for most families, ministers said.

They want to see renewed focus on information recovery as the prospect of securing convictions dwindles.

An official statement said: “These are important, sensitive, and highly complex issues – which is why they remain largely unresolved despite more than 20 years of extensive public discourse and debate.

“Despite the real challenges this brings, the government remains determined to make progress on legacy issues, and has always been clear that it will engage with the Irish Government, the Northern Ireland parties, and civic society, including victims’ groups, as part of this process.

“The government remains equally committed to working collaboratively with the committee and, as we intensify engagement with key stakeholders going into the new year.”

Ministers were responding to a Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report on the matter at Westminster.

In March, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis announced that only Troubles killings with “compelling” new evidence and a realistic prospect of court proceedings would receive a full reinvestigation by police.

The British government said that, after a review, most unsolved cases would be closed and a new law would prevent those investigations from being reopened.

Today’s response added: “The government believes it is right to focus on information recovery and providing answers to those with questions about what happened to their loved ones.

“With the passage of time it becomes increasingly challenging for investigations to satisfy the evidential thresholds necessary for prosecution.”

In October 2020, the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service directed there should be no prosecution against four people referred to it by the multimillion-pound Operation Kenova, on grounds of insufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction.

Operation Kenova investigated the activities of the Army’s top mole in Northern Ireland, codenamed Stakeknife.

Other files related to that inquiry and submitted to prosecutors are still under consideration.

Ministers said: “The government has always been clear we want to see information recovery at the heart of any new legacy system.

“It is clear that the current system for releasing Troubles-related information is not working, and the divisive cycle of reinvestigations and civil action as a primary route for truth recovery is failing to obtain answers for a majority of victims and families.”