When Will NIO ‘Openness’ Be Mirrored by Other State Bodies?

NEWS FROM THE CELTIC LEAGUE

The ‘ Northern Ireland Secretary’ Theresa Villiers has responded to a query sent to her Office by the Celtic League following the airing of the recent Panorama programme about collusion during the troubles (see link):

After BBC Panorama League Say Open Files on Dirty War

The Celtic League welcomes the prompt reply from the Ministers Office and a copy of the response, sent by Owen Jackson. Deputy Director, Legacy Group, is set out below:

“Dear Mr Moffatt,

Thank you for your letter of 1 June regarding a BBC Panorama programme aired on 28 May. I have been asked to respond on behalf of the Secretary of State.

You will no doubt be aware of this Government’s very clear position on collusion. As the Prime Minister said definitively in his response to the De Silva report on the murder of Patrick Finucane, collusion should ‘never, ever happen’. The Prime Minister apologized personally to the family of Mr Finucane.

It is important to note that the De Silva report also concluded that “the majority of RUC and UDR officers… served with distinction during what was an extraordinarily violent period’. Where the state and its employees have fallen short of these standards, including in the case of Bloody Sunday, this is entirely unacceptable and the Government has apologised. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been clear that this Government believes in the rule of law and where there has been wrongdoing by individuals employed by the state, those individuals should be brought to justice.

The Stormont House Agreement on December 2014, between the UK Government, the parties of the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government, recognised that an approach to dealing with the past was necessary which, amongst others, facilitated the pursuit of justice and information recovery. The Government is fulfilling its commitment to the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, part of which provides for the establishment of the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), an independent body to take forward investigations into outstanding Troubles-related deaths. The Stormont House Agreement makes clear that the Government “will make full disclosure to the HIU” in order that, where necessary, thorough investigations can take place.

The Stormont House Agreement also makes provision for an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR) and an Oral History Archive. The ICIR will enable victims and survivors to seek and privately receive information about the Troubles-related deaths of next-of-kin from sources who will only volunteer it in a confidential space. The oral history archive will allow individuals (from throughout the UK and Ireland ) to share experiences and narratives related to the Troubles. As announced in the Queen’s Speech in May 2015, the Government will bring forward a Bill to establish these bodies during this Parliamentary session.

Your letter refers to what you see as “successive British governments.., refusing to be open about this dark period”. The Northern Ireland Office meets all legal requirements for openness and transparency. For instance, it has deposited more than 3,200 historic files at The National Archives from 2013 to 2015 (to date), relating to the period 1982-1985, as we move to the 20-year rule. Of these files, more than 70% are fully accessible to members of the public.

Furthermore, the Northern Ireland Office processed 100% of requests received under Freedom of Information legislation in 2010-2014, with an average of 95% meeting the 20-day deadline.

These facts demonstrate the commitment of the Northern Ireland Office to openness and transparency.

I trust you will find this of assistance.

Yours faithfully,

Owen Jackson
Deputy Director, Legacy Group”

The Celtic League does not doubt the desire of the NIO to comply with Freedom of Information legislation and the release of the quantity of files identified is also no doubt commendable.

However the NIO know that many files are still restricted and some will not be released because restrictions have been placed on them. A notable example is the ‘Operation Pagoda’ files on the use of CR gas, which we have been (so far unsuccessfully) seeking some clarity on from the Ministry of Defence.

In addition there are the ‘plethora’ of hidden secrets stored in the files of the Secret Intelligence Services (SIS) some of which will never see the light of day. As we remarked ironically in our original letter to Ms Villiers we know more about the East German Stasi than about what Britain ’s Intelligence Service’s were up to in Ireland .

Mr. Jackson also mentions the Prime Ministers apology to the Finucane family and whilst I feel sure that public acknowledgement of wrong-doing by the State was welcome it falls short of giving the family the answer and closure that they seek.

We accept totally the final two paragraphs of the letter and given the apparent commitment of the NIO to ‘openness’ it is unfortunate the MOD and SIS do not take a leaf out of their book. Perhaps the Minister could prevail on her colleagues!

J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information
Celtic League

20/06/15

(Please note that replies to correspondence received by the League and posted on CL News are usually scanned hard copies. Obviously every effort is made to ensure the scanning process is accurate but sometimes errors do occur.)

ISSUED BY THE CELTIC LEAGUE INFORMATION SERVICE.

The Celtic League was established in 1961 and has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues

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Baile


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