On dealing with the past, Brokenshire should demand Executive action or withdraw the money

James Brokenshire is at least the eighth secretary of state to utter warm words about dealing with the past.   It’s almost two years since the abortive Stormont House Agreement described new structures headed by a new Historic Investigations Unit. £150 million will be made available by Westminster over the next five years to implement the full package.

Brokenshire is the latest UK minister to acquaint himself of “the raw emotion, the pain etc” and to repeat the government’s pledge of “full disclosure” to the HIU.

Why not get on with it then?  What merit it is there in further delay?

It may be all new to him, as  it was to all the other here -today- and -gone tomorrow British ministers ; but this  no doubt well meaning  stuff  has become clockwork talk. We have heard it so often. Paterson morphs into Villiers and into whoever…

Waiting for the full agreement of all paramilitary bodies which are supposed not to exist anyway is like waiting for Godot. Soulful words  about victims  do not begin to meet the real problems.   The latest glitch is over the UVF’s refusal to agree to implementation of the whole package without being consulted. Brokenshire told the Belfast Telegraph:

“I stand ready to meet and talk to them (the PUP). I’ve been largely focused on meeting victims and survivors and community groups, but I know there are others I need to meet.”

Loyalist sources have told the Belfast Telegraph that there have been a number of “background” discussions with officials from the Northern Ireland Office in recent months, but no formal talks regarding efforts to implement the Stormont House Agreement.

But it’s not all down to loyalists. The  qualification of the UK governments’ pledge of  ” full disclosure”  is that it’s subject to the potential catch-all of “national security”. Additionally Brokenshire  repeats the  vague pledge not “to rewrite history “- meaning that the Government is as determined as  ever to thwart republican efforts  to show that the state was just as bad as the IRA etc. etc..

If the state jumps, republicans will follow, implies Martin McGuinness. But trust all round is lacking.  However the endless delay allows  McGuinness to adopt the statesmanlike posture of calling for “ a short intensive dialogue” to resolve the impasse.

What does he mean by “ a last ditch attempt?” And so the merry-go-round of prevarication continues.

Meanwhile Arlene Foster and the rest of the Executive still fail to answer the Lord Chief Justice’s repeated requests to fund the fast tracking of legacy inquests.

Brokenshire should demand that the Executive approve setting up the new Unit to test the strength of evidence on file for further prosecutions without more delay. This does not need approval from paramilitary opinion. Waiting for support for voluntary disclosure all round is also a futile exercise.  If the Executive  parties fail to agree, the British government should withdraw the  £150 million funding and apportion blame where it’s due.

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