Calls by former government officials for compensation for Troubles’ victims to be prioritised over retroactive criminal investigations should be welcomed, a victims’ group has said.
Four former Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland have submitted a letter to a British government consultation asking that the £150m set aside for criminal investigations of Troubles violence be distributed to victims instead.
‘Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past‘, a paper launched by current Secretary of State Karen Bradley in May, gave the general public the chance discuss how historical violence should be addressed.
Eight members of the British House of Lords, including Tom King, Peter Hain, Paul Murphy and John Reid, signed a letter in response to the consultation, calling the aims of criminal inquiries “pointless”.
It was revealed earlier this year that a third of people affected by the Troubles had tried to take their own lives.
A survey by the Docklands Victims’ Association (DVA), which was set up after the 1996 Docklands bombing, found that some 32% had attempted suicide. In some cases, people had taken their own lives, its president, Jonathan Ganesh, said.
Speaking to the Irish World about repeated calls from British officials for investigations to be cast aside in favour of providing victims with compensation, Ganesh said such matters are time-sensitive due to the failing health of victims.
“As a consequence of the declining health of the victims, we welcome quality compensation rather than token gestures from government support organisations that are disingenuous,” he said.
“Therefore, we would welcome all efforts to secure genuine compensation that would enhance the quality of those impacted by the Troubles.”
The report issued by the DVA, which also included the stark survey findings, also discovered that many victims still require medication for suicidal thoughts linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and various other mental health issues.
The group of former officials who submitted the letter to Karen Bradley’s consultation has said the small number of prosecutions brought by the Historical Enquiries Team – a body tasked with dealing with unsolved killings that took place during the Troubles which disbanded in 2014 – means plans for new such bodies to deal with the violence are futile.
They have also called for cases to be treated in a more “even-handed manner”, claiming that prosecutions are currently being considered for former members of the British Army but not for paramilitaries.
“We understand why many victims and others attach great importance to the prosecution, conviction and sentencing of those responsible for the appalling loss they have suffered,” the letter reads.
“Their views clearly deserve the utmost respect. But experience suggests that it would be a mistake to expect that judicial outcome in any but a tiny percentage of the crimes that have not already been dealt with.
“Most of the cases were not easy to investigate immediately after they were committed and the passage of time – up to 50 years – has only made the chances of a successful outcome much less likely.”
The group say that while 1,615 cases relating to over 2,000 deaths were investigated, only 17 of these were referred to prosecutors and only three brought convictions for murder.
They argue that the 1,700 deaths that would be investigated by a new investigations unit would see a very small number of convictions, particularly as some of those involved would die as time passes.
Instead, they propose using the £150m earmarked for new legacy bodies to provide support and compensation for victims.
“It must be worth at least pausing to consider whether this is the best possible use of £150m,” the letter continues.
“In the light of what is so likely to be a largely frustrating outcome from further police investigations, we believe it may be a much more effective way of helping victims to use that money on those and perhaps other proposals for meeting the needs of victims.”
Jonathan Ganesh, who recently met with Judith Thompson, the lead Commissioner of the Commission for Victims and Survivors in Northern Ireland (CVSNI), criticised the lack of intervention from the British government, even after US passport holders, under the Libyan Claims Resolution Act 2008, received substantial compensation from Libya arising from decade-old conflict.
“The innocent victims of the Troubles have been treated disgracefully; and many throughout the UK, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are experiencing extreme hardship,” he said.
He added: “There has been an appalling lack of equality for victims…Irish and UK passport received nothing.”