By Q Radio News
Unionist politicians are demanding answers after claims that secret talks have been taking place in London regarding the legacy of the Troubles.
It is understood the Archbishop of Canterbury has been hosting discussions with representatives of loyalist and republican paramilitary groups, the Irish government; the NIO and the Ministry of Defence.
The DUP says it was neither aware of nor invited to the talks - a spokesperson for the party provided this statement:
"The DUP only recently became aware of this meeting and subsequently yesterday several of our representatives spoke to a representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury to establish what was being discussed, and who was present.
"We were not invited to, nor have we been involved in this, or any of these meetings.
"While people are at liberty to talk about legacy, ultimately it will be for the political parties, Her Majesty’s Government and victims to determine how we move forward on legacy.
"We have always made clear, and it remains our view that legacy issues can only be dealt with in a victims centred manner.
"It is particularly galling to find the Irish Government involved at a time when they have yet to deal with collusion in their own backyard."
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie says his party and those representing innocent victims of terrorist violence appear to have been excluded:
Doug Beattie speaking to Q Radio
“The news that secret talks have been taking place at Lambeth Palace - sponsored by the Archbishop of Canterbury - in a bid to resolve the legacy of the Troubles, will be of concern to anyone who is interested in openness and transparency.
“I am especially concerned – and not a little angry – that the representatives of political unionism and the representatives of the victims of terrorism have been excluded from the room where these talks have been taking place.
“We need to find out exactly who organised this process, who was invited, who invited them, on whose authority they were acting, how invitees were selected, and what mandate they had to be there.
“I am extremely concerned at reports that included on the invited guest list, was the Irish Government along with representatives of the IRA and Sinn Fein, loyalist paramilitaries, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and the Ministry of Defence (MOD). I also understand that certain academics were there seeking support for their own draft bill, based on the Stormont House Agreement legacy arrangements, which the Ulster Unionist Party and many victims of terrorism have already rejected.
“Two years ago in the foreword to the legacy consultation process, the then Secretary of State Karen Bradley said that legacy proposals must be ‘balanced, fair, equitable and crucially, proportionate.’ Now we find out that not only is this a one sided process, but the most important section of our community - the victims and survivors - have been excluded.
“Is it any wonder that Sinn Fein are starting to shout about the Stormont House Agreement once more because they knew about these meetings? While courting support from other political parties they have kept them in the dark as to what was going on.
“The Ulster Unionist Party is demanding answers as to what has been going on and particularly why we, and innocent victims of terrorism have been excluded. We will not stand idly by and watch as unelected and unrepresentative elements make decisions that will affect Northern Ireland for decades to come and allow terrorists to dictate the terms of legacy investigation over the interests of victims.
“We are committed to preventing history being re-written and to arrive at a legacy solution that is indeed ‘balanced, fair equitable and crucially, proportionate.’ This secret process clearly cannot do that.”
Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) confirms that it was not informed about secret talks on legacy at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Lambeth Palace.
UHRW Advocacy Manager, Axel Schmidt, said: “It is most surprising, to say the least, that secret talks should take place to deal with the legacy of the past - if such has indeed been the case.
Axel Schmidt speaking to Q Radio
“UHRW has received assurances from the Government that the consultation process that was initiated by Karen Bradley in relation to dealing with the past would be an open one, giving everyone in Northern Ireland and particularly victims of terrorism the opportunity to be involved in defining what would be the best way forward to address the past while pursuing truth, justice and acknowledgement.
“It would be interesting to know who took the initiative to organise these secret talks, why they were kept secret, what criteria were used to choose those invited to take part, what the agenda was, what the aim pursued by these talks was and whether these talks are part of a new process - in which case what is this new process about?
“UHRW has made substantial representations with the Government in relation to addressing issues concerning the past and will continue to do so. On behalf of victims of terrorism, I will be writing to Mr Brandon Lewis, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to ask him for clarification as to what these secret talks were about."
Kenny Donaldson from the victims group SEFF also spoke to Q Radio: