The retired Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland accused Stormont’s parties of failing to address the legacy of unrest in the bitter clashes in the Westminster Committee.
Declan Morgan stated that the parties have done “nothing” to develop Assembly legislation to address outstanding issues related to the conflict and said they should not be surprised that the government intervened with its own bill.
There were heated exchanges during his speech before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee after the former Chief Justice said Alliance MP Stephen Farry wrote to him in 2019 to advise him against publishing his own proposals to break the legacy deadlock. .
“I’m still wondering Stephen why you wrote to me in 2019 and told me not to speak,” he asked the North Down MP during a heated evidence-gathering session.
The deputy leader of the Alliance responded harshly, accusing Sir Declan of violating confidentiality and indulging in “political scoring”.
The top-ranking former judge in the region, who now sits on a subsidiary bench of the UK Supreme Court, testified before a committee on the government’s controversial heritage bill.
It proposes a new approach to conflict resolution that focuses more on establishing the truth than on criminal justice outcomes.
Its most controversial aspects are the promise of immunity from prosecution for perpetrators who agree to provide information to a new truth-finding body, and a move to end civil cases and conflict-related investigations.
The bill is a unilateral departure from the 2014 Stormont Agreement, in which the UK and Irish governments proposed a model that would create a new independent unit to reinvestigate unsolved murders.
Sir Declan said there were several “problems” with the content of the government bill, arguing that it would end as a “catastrophe” and a “catastrophe” if found to be inconsistent with human rights laws.
However, he insisted that the law could be “saved” by an amendment in Parliament.
He then posed a question to those who advocate a complete repeal of the legislation, arguing that if it were repealed, the victims could be left with nothing.
All of Stormont’s major parties oppose the bill.
Sir Declan dismissed the suggestion of improper government interference in Stormont’s affairs.
He said the government’s stance was not surprising, given the inability of local parties to advance House Stormont’s proposals.
“I didn’t see any sign that the local parties came up with a bill showing the way forward and demonstrating that they can get community support for what they are going to do,” he said.
“I didn’t see any sign of it. If there is a bill that has received the support of the parties and has been submitted to the Assembly, I would like to see it, and you have had seven years to do it and you have done nothing.”
He added: “You should have done this since December 2014. You didn’t. Almost seven and a half years have passed. I’m not surprised that someone thought it was too long.”
Sir Declan stated that local parties are “restrained by their own constituency”, which he says are “completely mistrusted in dealing with heritage issues”.
“For many of them, the problem is that they are afraid that solving legacy problems will suddenly become a rewriting of history, and therefore people are nervous trying to face this at home,” he added.
Sir Declan told the committee that in 2019 he wanted to jump-start efforts to advance the legacy agenda in a speech that suggested “rejuvenating” the structure of Stormont House along with his own “additional” proposal for a forum or commission of inquiry. allow victims to tell their stories in a public space.
He said he had made the local parties aware of his plan and told them that he was only going to give a speech if they did not object.
Sir Declan told the committee that Mr Farry wrote to him in August 2019 advising him not to propose an alternative to the Stormont House structure. He then read extracts from their correspondence into the minutes.
An MP from North Down confirmed that he had written the letter, insisting that what the then Lord Chief Justice was proposing was “drift from Stormont House”.
I am concerned about the fact that the current imperative of the prosecutorial process is a political issue, because, in my opinion, no one is brave enough to say: well, maybe we should consider the alternativeBarra McGrory
“In my opinion, it was useless at the time,” he added.
Responding to an Alliance MP’s response, Sir Declan said, “I see you’re upset about this, Mr. Farry.”
The politician criticized the actions of the former Lord Chief Justice.
“I have to say I’m very taken aback by someone who says he’s still an active referee getting into what I can only call party political scoring, actually bringing it up in the first place.”
He asked Sir Declan why he made the contents of his letter public.
“Why did you read this, do you have a habit of violating privacy?” he asked.
A senior judicial figure insisted that the letter was not marked confidential.
Mr Farry said most parties supported the Stormont House Agreement when it was signed and it was the government’s fault that the plan was not implemented.
DUP MP Ian Paisley, who said his party withdrew its consent to Stormont House about five years ago, called Sir Declan’s statement about Mr Farry’s letter “an explosive revelation”.
“That gambit of yours to put forward a juice stimulation proposal, to say, ‘here is the proposal, here are my additions to it, to improve it and resolve some of the issues’, and in fact, in your opinion, was stopped. judging by this answer,” he said.
SDLP MP Claire Hanna disputed Sir Declan’s claim that there was no consensus on the House of Stormont proposals.
“I don’t think you’re right in saying that there was no consensus,” she said.
The MP for South Belfast said there was “a much broader consensus” in Northern Irish society on the Stormont House plans than the government’s legacy bill.
Former Northern Ireland Attorney General Barra McGrory also testified before the committee on the bill.
He was highly critical of the proposals, arguing that they would “abolish due process”.
“In my humble opinion, I don’t see how this can meet the standards set by the European Convention on Human Rights,” he said.
Mr McGrory said he supports an approach to probate that is moving away from prosecutors, arguing that only “very, very few” historic cases will ever lead to a successful conviction these days.
Instead, he suggested focusing on cases in civil courts, where the burden of proof is less to determine liability.
“I am concerned that the current imperative of the prosecutorial process is a political issue because, in my opinion, no one is brave enough to say, ‘Well, maybe we should consider an alternative,’” he said. said.
Mr McGrory said the victims wanted “responsibility”.
“What worries me about the emphasis on prosecution is that it doesn’t really provide accountability because very few of them will ever succeed,” he said.
The senior lawyer said an alternative model focused on civil cases could only work if the system was sufficiently resourced to do the job required.