A victims’ campaigner has branded secret legacy talks in London a “kick in the teeth” for all who lost loved ones during the Troubles.
enny Donaldson said it was shameful that victims were excluded from the discussions, which involved officials from the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and Dublin’s Department of Foreign Affairs, former IRA commander and Sinn Fein strategist Sean ‘Spike’ Murray and loyalist Winston Irvine.
The spokesman for Innocent Victims United blasted the talks as “having absolutely no legitimacy” and said those he represented were furious.
Another victims’ group, Relatives for Justice, warned that it firmly opposed “any form of amnesty”.
Mr Donaldson claimed that the talks, convened under the auspices of the Church of England and Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace, had been ongoing since February.
He said those attending included the Archbishop’s chief of staff David Porter; former Bedfordshire Assistant Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, who is leading Operation Kenova; senior British military officers; Queen’s University law lecturer Kieran McAvoy; and former Victims’ Commissioner Judith Thompson.
Mr Donaldson said: “It is maddening that victims have been excluded from the process. Once again, those who have carried themselves with grace and dignity – in some cases for half a century – are not having their voice heard on proposals and potential decisions affecting them.”
The victims’ campaigner said there must be transparency on the discussions and demanded that the NIO answer questions.
Mark Thompson, from Relatives for Justice, said: “Families bereaved during the conflict are the holders of rights and governments hold the obligations.
“Individuals need to stop meddling and pushing agendas for which there exists absolutely no support.”
He called on the Westminster Government to implement the Stormont House Agreement legacy mechanisms.
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie expressed his disappointment that the archbishop’s office would facilitate discussions it knew would be viewed as exclusionary.
“They effectively slammed the door in victims’ faces,” he said.
“We keep hearing that victims must be at the centre of any legacy process, but actions always contradict the pledges. I am also deeply unhappy that figures from the Irish Republic were at these talks but politicians from Northern Ireland weren’t invited.”
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “Victims must be at the centre of the room when dealing with the past, not outside the door.
“This was not a forum where any decisions could be made, but the reaction (for) this gathering is indicative of the absolute need for an inclusive approach.
“Bypassing the views and fears of victims does not necessarily move us forward.”
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry was critical of the secrecy of the dialogue.
“There are obvious sensitivities around the legacy issue and there is a responsibility on the organisers of these events to be much more transparent,” he said.
An NIO spokesman said: “The UK Government is listening to people from all communities, victims and survivors regarding legacy issues, and is committed with our Irish partners to seek a way forward for everyone.
“We are not engaged in secret talks with anyone.”