Alliance will always put victims first – Opinion piece by Naomi Long

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s appearance today at the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee has once again shown the need for a comprehensive mechanism for dealing with the past in Northern Ireland.

Mr Blair is appearing in relation to the so-called on-the-runs scandal, in which around 200 republicans suspected of crimes carried out during the Troubles were given letters assuring them they were not wanted by the police in connection with them.

The Hallett Review into the scheme stated that although it did not operate in secret, it did not have its details widely publicised, while numerous failings in its operation meant mistakes were not recognised or rectified.

The mistakes made by Mr Blair’s government, among others, in the construction and operation of this scheme, combined with the lack of a clear way forward on dealing with our past, means victims are continuing to suffer the consequences of the Troubles.

It is clear the thoughts and feelings of those who suffered the most were not in the minds of the people who concocted this scheme.

Multiple victims stated during evidence sessions to the committee that they suffered further distress upon the uncovering of this scheme, as none of them were made aware of its existence nor that of the letters.

The recent Stormont House Agreement, while being far from a perfect solution to many problems, nevertheless led to significant progress regarding the legacy of the past, thanks to Alliance’s consistent highlighting of the issue during talks.

The agreement offers the opportunity to deliver the justice and support that victims and survivors deserve.

We have a moral obligation to ensure they are treated with respect and dignity.

Reconciliation is at the heart of any process. Without resolving victims’ issues with openness and integrity, our society cannot hope to make progress in areas such as the economy and education.

We need to reach a place where schemes such as that which concerned the so-called ‘on-the-runs’ and the culture of covert side-deals which it typified, will never happen again.

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