Welcome to the first Ulster Human Rights Watch blog.
First, we hope 2021 will be a lot kinder than the turbulent, worrying and wearisome year we have just come through.
2021 is an important year for Northern Ireland – a time to reflect on the first 100 years and a chance to look forward as we set out on our second century.
Events that are planned will reflect on what happened in Northern Ireland since 1921. Sadly, on a number of occasions, the first 100 have been marred by terrorist violence. Within living memory, we had the republican campaigns of the fifties and sixties, but nothing compared with the sustained and murderous 25 years of terrorism from 1969/70.
This last and most prolonged campaign claimed 3,700 lives and left close to 50,000 injured. The period was characterised by appalling acts of barbarity. Protestant and Roman Catholic civilians were ruthlessly targeted. RUC officers and members of the military were prime targets for the blood-thirsty killers.
This is the legacy we deal with today. Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) is a voice for those who still bear the wounds, physically and mentally, of the ‘Troubles’. Relatives of hundreds of people murdered or maimed still don’t have closure: they don’t have full disclosure of what happened; why investigations were incomplete or deficient; who the perpetrators were and what level of Irish State collusion there was to protect the bomber or gunman who escaped to the ‘save haven’ of the Republic of Ireland.
We advocate on behalf of innocent victims. We search official documents. We sometimes ask awkward and uncomfortable questions. We campaign for a fairer deal for victims who for too long have been pushed to the side lines of our troubled past. Too many are content to pay lip-service to victims and too few are willing to do what’s right.
Take the Victims’ Payment Scheme, for example. It was meant to come into effect in May last year. It then became bogged down in a political row over funding. Was the devolved administration to be responsible for making payments or should that be the responsibility of the national Government as the scheme?
We’re still no further on. The Northern Ireland Justice Department has taken ‘ownership’ of the scheme but without agreement on who pays, our victims are left hanging on. It is shameful. It is wrong.
It has to be brought to a close to save victims further anguish and distress. The money will bring some little relief to many who struggle financially. It will never bring closure, but it would be a first positive step in acknowledging their life-long suffering and pain.
We continue to make representations to both Secretary of State Brandon Lewis and Minister Naomi Long.
We will update you on progress or the continuing failure of our local administration or Government to resolve this year-long squabble.