Costs of dealing with the past, “unsustainable” says Commons NI Committee

Update. We are fast approaching decision time on what we do about
the past and how much we are prepared to pay for not moving
beyond it.”
Gregory Campbell MP (more below the fold)

Are costs to be cut in the running of public inquiries and other bodies responsible of unearthing the dark events of the Troubles?
The Common’s Northern Ireland Select Committee clearly think they should be, according to a report now being unveiled in Belfast and available of their website.
“The very high costs of inquiries is unsustainable.” Costs ( like Bloody Sunday’s £183 million and rising) have to be faced… and cannot be a permanent feature of NI life”..

Much on the PSNI’s Historic Enquiries Team. “We are concerned that the HET role is compromising the PSNI’s ability to police the present”
“We are surprised that all historic cases are reviewed by the HET…. They should prioritise re-opening cases ” to relatives who request it.”

The committee are calling for a review of the HET’s cost effectiveness, a subject hitherto hidden from public scrutiny. A £34 million budget could overrun to to £45 million, with 54 cases so far passed to the Police Ombudsman and just one sent for prosecution.

Similarly, ” the extension of the Police Ombudsman’s role to Policing the Past is damaging its efficiency”.

Major new inquiries into past events should only be undertaken with the consent of the Assembly.” ( knowing, surely, any given request could be subject to cross community deadlock.)

And there is a broad hint for Eames/Bradley to report “sooner rather than later”.

This report seethes with frustration at the open-ended costs of all forms of inquiry into the past. It’s written in a kind of parliamentary code. Nevertheless, it’s clear the MPs want a brake imposed on the conduct of ongoing and future examinations, in anticipation of the final Eames-Bradley report. The Cory inquiries are conducted by independent judges, but under the very controversial Public Inquiries Act are subject to cost review by ministers – one reason why Lord Saville himself sensationally declared he wouldn’t preside over one such.

The committee chair and other MPs on the committee will no doubt be explaining themselves during the day. (NI members, Gregory Campbell, Sammy Wilson (DUP), Alasdair McDonnell (SDLP), Sylvia Hermon, UU).

One big question needs an answer : whatever the evidence, will anyone, paramilitary or security forces, be sent to prison for a scheduled offence committed before the Good Friday Agreeement? I do not believe it.

The government response and no doubt divided reactions are awaited. Update Gregory Campbell MP (DUP)

MUST END – CAMPBELL

Following the release by the NI Affairs Select Committee of the House of
Commons of a Report on Justice matters including Inquiries investigating
issues in the past. Gregory Campbell said;

“The cost of Inquiries is reaching astronomical proportions. 2009
will see the first in a number of years where the cost reaches
approximately £100m per annum on public inquiries. This is in a
economic climate where all sections of the community are feeling
extreme pressure. The other aspect of these inquiries is that almost
all of them are examining the small number of deaths attributable
to the Security Forces and virtually none of them will look at the
murders carried out by terrorists despite the fact that terrorists were
responsible for the vast majority of all ‘troubles related’ deaths over
the last 35 years.

Last week was a classic case where an Inquest jury looking at the
death of a young man in Londonderry during a riot in 1996 gave the
impression that because proper procedures were not followed by
the Army that they were more to blame than those who caused the
riot. We are fast approaching decision time on what we do about
the past and how much we are prepared to pay for not moving
beyond it.”

NI Committee press statement

Monday 7 July 2008

POLICE SERVICE OF NORTHERN IRELAND FACES CHALLENGES IN
‘POLICING THE PAST’, SAY MPS

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee today publishes its report Policing
and Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland: the Cost of Policing the Past. The
report examines whether the cost of ‘policing the past’ is compromising the
ability of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Police
Ombudsman’s Office to carry out their core functions. It praises the
professionalism of the Chief Constable, the Director of the Historical
Enquiries Team and the other staff involved in the Historical Enquiries
Team and acknowledges the unique and challenging nature of their work.

The report recommends that alternative ways of prioritising Historical
Enquiry Team cases are identified in order to target funding more
effectively. Significant additional funding would be required if the project is
to continue with its current approach and the report calls for a mid-term
review to establish the costs and benefits of continuing with the Historical
Enquiries Team in its existing form.

The extension of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland’s remit to
include historic cases has compromised its ability to investigate more
recent complaints against the PSNI and this is having a damaging effect
on the efficiency of the Ombudsman’s Office. The report warns that this
reduced capability risks damaging public perception of the Office and
public confidence in policing. The Committee awaits the conclusions of the
Eames/Bradley Group but notes that this issue must be resolved sooner
rather than later.

The disclosure of intelligence information to statutory inquiries clearly
presents challenges for the police, and for other organisations which are
required to provide sensitive information. The provisions in the Inquiries Act
2005 for agreeing and resolving disputes about redactions have yet to be
tested. It is crucially important that the workings of the Act are carefully
monitored and the Committee will keep a careful eye on how the Act
operates in practice.

The high annual cost of inquiries into past events is financially
unsustainable and the cost of inquiring into the past is an issue that, at
some point, will have to be addressed. The report recommends that the
Northern Ireland Office takes further steps to control the costs of statutory
inquiries and that inquiries other than those already underway or
announced should only be established if agreed by the Northern Ireland
Assembly.

The Committee also says that the Northern Ireland Office must continue to
ensure that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has a budget sufficient to
fulfil its operational remit and to meet its legal obligations with regard to
servicing statutory inquiries.

The Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Sir Patrick
Cormack, said:

“The Committee was very impressed during our visits to Northern Ireland
as part of this inquiry, and also from evidence given to us at Westminster,
by the commitment of police service staff. They face unique challenges
and operate in exceptional circumstances and we saw genuine
determination to provide answers to families bereaved by the Troubles.

“The Police Service of Northern Ireland faces significant demands in terms
of its work with all of the different historical investigations and we are
concerned about the impact of this in relation to the police service’s
primary role in policing the present.

“We very much welcome the work being done by the Consultative Group
on the Past, chaired by Lord Eames of Armagh and Mr Denis Bradley, with
whom we have had very useful discussions. We await their findings with
keen interest.”

Ends.

The Historical Enquiries Team project was established within the Police
Service of Northern Ireland in 2005 following discussions between the
police service and the Northern Ireland Office about dealing with the legacy
of the Troubles. The Historical Enquiries Team’s role is to re-examine all
deaths attributable to the security situation (the Troubles) between 1968
and 1998.

The Consultative Group on the Past is an independent group established to
consult across the community on the best way to deal with the legacy of
the past in Northern Ireland. Co-chaired by Lord Robin Eames and Denis
Bradley the Group brings together a range of people from across Northern
Ireland and is supported by international advisers.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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