Outline of Stormont House Agreement

11th November 2015

Stormont House Agreement- Legacy proposals

The Stormont House Agreement (SHA), is the latest political initiative established by the political parties at Stormont and the British and Irish Governments to address how we deal with the past.

Guiding Principles

The document outlines an approach to dealing with the past which is driven by:

 Promoting reconciliation

 Upholding the rule of law

 Acknowledging and addressing the suffering of victims and survivors

 Facilitating the pursuit of justice and information recovery

 Is human rights compliant

 Is balanced,proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable

Four new agencies will be set up under the Stormont House agreement.

 Historical Investigations Unit

 Independent Commission on Information Retrieval

 Oral History Archive

 Implementation &Reconciliation Group

The Historical Investigations Unit (HIU)

The HIU will be Independent of PSNI & the Chief Constable. It will be overseen by the Policing Board and will have full policing powers and will be able to compel witnesses and make arrests etc.

The HIU will investigate Troubles-related deaths with a view to prosecutions if possible and will provide a report in each case.

It will begin with uncompleted HET cases and legacy complaints to the Police Ombudsman.

Whether a case has been considered by the Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) which is located within the PSNI, will be irrelevant. All outstanding HET cases will be looked at.

Families can apply to have completed cases looked at again if there is new evidence “relevant to the identification and eventual prosecution of the perpetrator”. 

Both the British and Irish governments have committed to making all files accessible.

The HIU aims to end its work within 5 years, though many commentators say that this is unrealistic.

The HIU will have to recruit skilled investigators.The Police Ombudsman has appointed investigative staff who are independent to deal with their historic Troubles related cases. Some have argued these staff should be moved to the new HIU.

The PSNI currently have staff working on Legacy cases in the LIB and Legacy Support Unit. Some have argued they should also be moved to the new HIU.

Some families, victims groups & other organisations wish to see independent staff only, akin to the Police Ombudsman historic team to increase confidence in the independence of the HIU. They point to the previous difficulties within the HET as support for their view.

A Director and Senior Team will need to be appointed.There are discussions around who will make this appointment. Possibilities include the Policing Board, the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) or the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR)

The ICIR will be similar to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims‘ Remains.

It will need legislation passed in Westminster and the Dail

Its aim is “to enable victims and survivors to seek,and privately receive, information on deaths of next of kin”.

Information given to ICIR will not be disclosed to PSNI, An Garda Siochana or the new HIU and it will be inadmissible in criminal and civil proceedings.

The two Governments insist that this limited immunity is not an amnesty.

The HIU has a clear role re assessing and investigating all cases and if information from another source emerges,prosecution will still be an option.

The ICIR again has a 5 year time frame. SHA states that the body will have five Commissioners: two appointed by OFMDFM, one by the UK government, one by the Irish government and one joint UK/IRE appointment to chair the Commission.

This person may be an international figure.

Families can choose whether to wait until the HIU has finished its work – or alternatively approach the ICIR knowing that any new information cannot be used by HIU.

For families who want as much truth as possible (as opposed to prosecutions) or in the case of where there has been a conviction this may be a useful process.

Oral History Archive (OHA)

The SHA specifically states that the OHA will be independent and free from political interference but will sit within the Executive.

It will be a central bank for people across the two islands to “share experiences and narratives related to the Troubles”. There is debate as to whether the ICIR and the HIU will be able to work across both islands.

The OHA will work with existing projects as well as collecting new material and contributions will be made voluntarily.

There is some consideration being given to “protecting contributors, and the body itself, from defamation claims”.

One part of the OHA proposals is that academics will produce a historical timeline and statistical analysis within 12 months.

Implementation& Reconciliation Group (IRG)

The IRG will have responsibility to oversee themes,archives and information recovery.

Essentially the IRG will be responsible for overseeing the other mechanisms.

There is no clarity at present as to how this will overlap with the Policing Board oversight of the HIU.

Part of the IRG’s remit will be to commission“a report on themes” from independent academic experts after 5 years.

The evidence for these themes can be submitted by “any of the legacy mechanisms”.

Both governments have undertaken to provide statements of acknowledgement with an expectation that other participants in the conflictwill follow and do the same.

The SHA proposes an 11 member group, with a Chair appointed by OFMDFM, three DUP appointees, two SF, one SDLP, one UUP, one Alliance and one from each of the two Governments.

Other support for Victims

Other support for Victims & Survivors is included within the Agreement:

 A Comprehensive Mental Trauma Service to sit within the NHS

Some question if there is a need for another statutory service of this kind and whether sitting within the NHS is the best place for this service to be provided rather than at community level.

The focus on mental trauma alone has led some to comment that this is an attempt to brand victims as ill and trauma as a health issue rather than a multi-dimensional issue requiring a series of responses

 Will look at a pension for the Injured

The biggest issue concerning this is eligibility.

 An Advocate-Counsellor role to provide assistance to victims & survivors

It is difficult to see how one person will be able to successfully provide both an advocacy service and a therapeutic intervention.

Some argue that keeping services within existing groups is the best way of fulfilling this role. 

 Possible changes to the Inquest system

Getting inquests reopened is likely to be harder once HIU is established, as any argument for a Human Rights compliant investigation will be directed towards the HIU.

The HIU is likely to become responsible for disclosure to Coroners.

This will increase its workload and require a commitment to providing resources.

However, most of the litigation around inquests has been against the PSNI & the Ministry of Defence (MOD)jointly.

Whilst the move from PSNI to HIU may resolve some of this, the MOD issue may still remain.

A full copy of the Agreement can be accessed here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/390672/Stormont_House_Agreement.pdf