Arlene Foster (left) and Michelle O'Neill (right) have spoken about the unit to investigate Troubles killings.Image: Liam McBurney

Foster urges new Northern Ireland secretary to 'revisit' scope of historical investigations unit

Plans to press ahead with the unit are being cited as a reason for Julian Smith’s sacking as Northern Ireland secretary.


DUP LEADER ARLENE Foster has called on the new Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis to “revisit” the scope of the Historical Investigation Unit that was pledged as part of the deal which saw Stormont return.

The unit will examine Troubles-related killings, including those carried out by the RUC and British soldiers. It was initially agreed as part of the Stormont House agreement in 2014, which never came into force.

Under the “New Decade, New Approach” deal, which saw power sharing returned to Northern Ireland last month, the UK government pledged, within 100 days, to introduce legislation to pass the legacy deal.

Unionists have repeatedly opposed the unit, saying it will lead to British Army veterans being probed over actions for which they thought they had been cleared.

Foster told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “(What was) originally mooted in the Stormont agreement does need to be revisited because a lot of matters have changed since then, not least the fact that the chief constable put all of the so-called state killings into the historical investigation unit.

“So there are great difficulties in that – not least that 90% of those who lost their lives in Northern Ireland were killed by paramilitaries, terrorists if you will,” she continued.

The Northern Ireland First Minister added that she had written to Julian Smith about the unit before he was sacked as Northern Ireland secretary yesterday. She said she would also contact the new secretary of state, Brandon Lewis, about the matter.

Julian Smith sacking

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said she wrote to the British government seeking an urgent meeting with Lewis following Smith’s sacking.

O’Neill said it was “very concerning” that Smith’s plans to establish the unit reportedly played a role in his dismissal.

Reports from London that Julian Smith was sacked as a result of commitments made to bring forward legislation to implement the legacy bodies agreed at Stormont House are very concerning for victims of the conflict and their families.

The Northern Ireland deputy First Minister said it is “unacceptable” for the UK government to backtrack on commitments made only weeks ago. 

The British government must honour its agreements regardless of who is in the office of British Secretary of State.

“The British government has already dragged this process out for more than five years, delaying the publication of legislation again and again. Some victims have been waiting up to five decades for truth and disclosure,” she added.