The unlikely figure of Shaun Woodward has blown apart the smooth surface of Westminster consensus by launching an attack on his successor for dilatoriness in tackling the legacy of the Troubles. In a long and impassioned speech in a debate on the Saville report, Woodward accused Secretary of State Owen Paterson of stalling a decision on a public inquiry into the Finucane murder and dealing with other major incidents like Claudy, Omagh and Ballymurphy.
” We can’t say to the loved ones of Ballymurphy, Omagh and Claudy that there are no mechanism for seeking justice,” he said.
Paterson was wrong if he thought the historic enquiries team was the right mechanism or had the right resources for dealing with outstanding major complex cases, although it had won 80% approval from victim’s families.
It was “rash and “a risk to the peace process” to say there should be no further open ended inquiries and leave nothing in their place.
Woodward warned Paterson: ” You must avoid suspicions about your motives.” He himself failed to specify an alternative to public inquiries bur the answer might be found in the Eames/Bradley report despite the rejection of recognition payments.
Westminster retained responsibility for inquiries and it could not simply be handed over entirely to the Executive..
Paul Murphy Woodward’s predecessor insisted the cost should not be an obstacle as “Northern Ireland remains a special case.” In an intervention the Foyle MP Mark Durkan identified “Ballymurphy, Springhill and Shankill ” as further inquiry cases “as they all involved the Parachute Regiment.”
Woodward’s attack will probably have taken the government by surprise as they appeared to believe that their apparently minimalist approach to the past was gaining ground. Their Labour predecessors have disabused them of that impression even though the coalition may well ask them in turn: “Why didn’t you all this when you were in power?” The likely answer: ” we were waiting for Saville” doesn’t seem altogether satisfactory. The debate was still continuing at 4 pm
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