The Open Letter to all candidates and political parties calling on them to oppose the creation of the proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) has tapped into a wave of widespread revulsion over the draft Stormont House Agreement Bill.

The News Letter devoted considerable space to news that the Open Letter, signed by ten groups, had been sent to all the parties.

Once it appeared in print, Ulster Human Rights Watch took to Twitter to expand the coverage. The UHRW only recently opened a Twitter account and was slowly building up followers on the popular platform.

Days out from the General Election, we extracted a line from the letter and used it in the opening sentence. It read: “There are many of us and we intend to vote.” We captured the on-line News Letter coverage and linked in senior politicians and more than twenty media outlets.

Fast forward twenty-four hours, and even though the UHRW Twitter account had a little more than thirty followers, our tweet packed a punch. In our terms and borrowing the phrase a description from the Twitter phrasebook, the tweet went viral.

By teatime on Sunday, we recorded no fewer than 14,856 impressions – that’s the number of people who saw the tweet – with 1,067 engagements or the number of times people interacted with the tweet.

We attracted 25 ‘likes’ from people who saw it and there were seventeen retweets which widened the net to an even larger audience.

Back to the letter. The letter we were proud to sign alongside either civilian, police or military veterans noted with regret the manner in which so-called ‘legacy issues’ had been handled. It called upon all individual candidates and all political parties “to state without equivocation their stance on the issue of the draft legislation arising from the Stormont house Agreement.”

The letter continued: “In particular, we call upon all parties to express their clear opposition to the proposed creation of a ‘Historical Investigations Unit’ (HIU).

“We believe that this proposal will:

  • create false expectations of long-delayed justice for victims of crime;
  • create new victims and re-victimise existing ones in relation to trauma;
  • undermine centuries of successful development of the rule of law by introducing arbitrary and capricious official opinions as a substitute for due process and judicial decisions;
  • breach numerous articles of the European Convention on Human Rights; and
  • facilitate a huge and expensive exercise in scapegoating those who worked to protect society whilst ignoring the perpetrators of violence.

“We will not countenance the perpetuation of what we see as a witch hunt – a witch hunt which is clearly designed to assist those who seek to re-write the history of the last fifty years in order to deflect attention from their heinous crimes, to justify terrorism and to blame others for the ensuing misery.

“We welcome the references in the manifestos of two of our main political parties to their concerns about the HIU. We now call upon all parties to repudiate the concept of any quasi-judicial definition of ‘collusion’. The law already provides for the investigation and punishment of conspiracy to murder, perverting the course of justice and all other associated crimes. Yet another new definition will only serve to perpetuate the myth of collusion – the greatest piece of ‘fake news’ to hit Northern Ireland.

“Candidates and all political parties – where do you stand? Are you for justice or are you for continuing the witch hunt?”

The organisations supporting the letter were:

County Armagh Phoenix Group (Police & Military Support)

Decorum NI (Police & Military support)

Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans

Mourne Action for Survivors of Terrorism

Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association

RUC GC Association

RUC GC Parents’ Association

South East Fermanagh Foundation

Ulster Human Rights Watch

Wounded Police and Families Association

We await responses from the parties ahead of polling day. Watch this space for updates.