Kate Nash describes a meeting between justice campaigners and the North's British Justice Minister, David Ford. Kate Nash lost a brother to the British state war crime known as Bloody Sunday.
Today as part of a wider delegation we met with Justice Minister David Ford in a bid to have our concerns addressed over legislation to deal with the past stemming from the Stormont House Agreement.
Upon arrival we met with three DOJ officials including Brian Gryzmek the Director of Legacy Investigations and then with David Ford who was present for thirty minutes out of a ninety minute meeting due to ongoing party talks at Stormont.
Throughout the discussion a few things became apparent. Notably, David Ford when questioned on his view of the draft legislation admitted that as Alliance party leader he himself has concerns over elements of the draft which originated from the NIO.
Minister Ford at various intervals during the course of the meeting referred to his role as leader of the Alliance party and had to be reminded that we were meeting him in his role as Justice Minister. Whether Minister Ford is capable of operating effectively as Justice Minister when acting as leader of a Stormont Party is something we are concerned about.
Retired human rights lawyer Padraigin Drinan advised David Ford that the recently leaked draft legislation is not Article 2compliant and would no doubt warrant a European challenge which could take anything up to eight years. Padraigin went on to say “this is why it needs to be right first time if only to avoid further delays”. The Justice Minister acknowledged Padraigin's sentiments at a later stage in the meeting.
When discussing the lack of consultation Brian Gryzmek told of how a consultation document had been presented to the representatives of the five main Stormont parties who turned it down. Despite being quizzed on this Mr.Gryzmek did not elaborate further on the content of the consultation document. Whether the five main Stormont parties will provide any detail on the content or why they refused the consultation document remains to be seen. However based on their silence to date we have no faith in the parties to adequately represent victims.
Helen Deery whose brother Manus was murdered by British soldiers in Derry in 1972 questioned the new inquest system and the time-frame involved in setting it up. In response one of the officials present explained that a County Court judge has been appointed to act as Coroner and that further appointments would begin by the end of October with the process expected to take months to complete.
In the course of the meeting we were also advised that the proposed legislation will now go through Westminster as a bill as opposed to statutory instrument as was originally the case. In advance of this, the bill will require legislative consent from Stormont. There will be no public consultation however this process will allow the public to read the actual legislation on the parliamentary website and lobby Westminster representatives who can amend the bill.
Today despite a range of questions being put forward there was a lack of substantive answers provided with the buck repeatedly being passed to the NIO. We will now begin a process of seeking answers from the NIO as it would seem for all their negotiating powers the political parties here wield no actual authority and are subordinate to the whim of the British Secretary of State and Northern Ireland Office.
British Secretaries of State and their Civil servants may come and go, but we as victims and survivors of violence will continue to seek justice. Our loved ones deserve nothing less.