That is great. I reiterate the welcome the Chairman gave to Mr. Monaghan, Ms McIlvenny and Mr. McCord. I am sorry I am not able to be there in person but it is always good to see another north Belfast face in front of the committee, so Mr. McCord is very welcome. I wish to say at the outset I noted with interest - this is directed at Mr. McCord - the Coroner's Office in Belfast announced that as part of the five-year plan to deal with legacy inquests, Mr. McCord's son's case will be dealt with as part of the year 3 plan. I saw that announced in or around the third week of March. For me, it brings into very sharp focus, should the committee need to be reminded, what we are dealing with here. We are dealing with families like those of Mr. McCord, and of Mr. Monaghan and Ms McIlvenny, who have been working tirelessly for a long period of time. It has been too many years. In Mr. McCord's case, the family are now very close to actually being able to go into a courtroom and access truth through the legal mechanisms.
The committee previously attended in Belfast and we heard that similar fear from families of the Springhill-Westrock massacre. They are now very fearful about whether they will set foot in a courtroom given the proposals made by the British Government last year in the House of Commons. I pay tribute to Mr. McCord's perseverance and, dare I say it, stubbornness. I say that in wholly complimentary terms. Mr. McCord has been able to bring his son's case to the forefront through the ombudsman. Now, we hope to be able to see exactly what transpires as the evidence is challenged through an inquest. The committee had a very good and strong record in dealing with this, even in advance of the British Government's unilateral moves last year. The committee has recognised the importance of dealing with the past and doing so in a way that does not satisfy narrow interests but satisfies those who matter most, namely, families, relatives and those who were either injured or bereaved as a result of state, republican or loyalist actions and that it is important they have faith in a process to provide the answers they want. The committee heard on numerous occasions that not every family wants the same things. We have received lots of evidence as to the subtleties, and the importance of the subtleties, of what exactly it is families need. I again pay tribute to this committee for prioritising that as an issue.
When we talk about agreement on legacy, it is always worth bringing the starting point back to when there was a political agreement between the parties and the two governments. I refer to the Stormont House Agreement of 2014. Without rehearsing it in too much detail, what followed was a period of lacking implementation, which meant the structures that had been painfully negotiated, although I think very well received by families once they were agreed, were not implemented. Again, it goes back to my point that the structures were not an imposition of a one-size-fits-all approach to legacy. It recognised different families had different needs and different priorities and it allowed access, for example, through the criminal courts to continue and also through the civil courts through inquests such as in the case of Mr. McCord's son and many others. Also, where there were investigatory steps being taken by our ombudsman's office, it allowed those structures to continue, as well as reinforcing, strengthening and providing the ability for families to get some sense of closure, which is not a word I like using, on what they had been dealing with for what amounted to decades, in some cases.
If we fast-forward a little bit to the lack of implementation around Stormont House, again, even with regard to the five-year legacy plan, we saw a fairly unprecedented action by our then Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan. In a sense, he came out with a begging bowl asking for the money to implement a five-year plan to clear legacy inquests. It is good to see that we are now on to year three and we want to see that continue. I do not think I would be contradicted by anybody on this committee, irrespective of what party he or she comes from, to say this committee is united in wanting to see those inquests take place. It wants to see the families who have been waiting for access to truth and justice get into those court rooms.
As a result of the unilateral actions by the British Government last year, however, unfortunately, like many other legal avenues, inquests are now under threat. That statement in July last year came a couple of weeks after a joint British Government and Irish Government statement arising out of the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference that legacy needed to be looked at.
For me, and I think it was touched on very well in the opening statement from the group, there is arguably an unprecedented reaction to such a unilateral move on legacy. We have had many very helpful interventions by groups that represent victims and families, non-governmental human rights organisations and international bodies, whether they are based in Europe or America, which have over the years held a mirror, particularly up to the British Government, around its lack of implementation or adherence to international human rights standards.
The period of consultation and listening that the British Government said it would undertake after the announcement in July of last year was a sham. We have certainly called it that. I think other political parties represented on this committee have publicly called it that. The British Government in my view and that of Sinn Féin was tone deaf. Irrespective of how a person lost a loved one, the answer was the same - that these proposals were rejected in their entirety. I agree with Mr. McCord entirely. I was with him at Westminster when his group convened a meeting. My party was represented through my north Belfast councillor colleague at the meeting in City Hall, which Mr. McCord referenced. There is that singularity of voice whenever people are calling out whatever these proposals really are. It is not about working to the benefit of families. It is actually about shutting down processes whether it is cruelly taking away Mr. McCord's inquest he has waited too long for, removing any shred of possibility that families can access justice through the criminal courts and those investigatory processes or removing the power of the ombudsman to investigate. Again, Mr. McCord's case, along with others, is a good example of how the ombudsman can work best. My view certainly would be that a degree of a penalty was imposed upon Dame Nuala O'Loan's office. I think she was essentially too good in her investigation around the Mount Vernon Ulster Volunteer Force, UVF. We have, therefore, very good structures being starved of resources that essentially strips them of their ability to operate at full capacity.
We had the response from families, groups and political parties, however. Mr. McCord cited the Traditional Unionist Voice, TUV, as maybe the outlier but really all major parties on the island of Ireland have unequivocally come out to condemn the proposals. We also had very significant voices being made clear from groups this committee has met. We met with Widows Against Violence Empower, WAVE, at its headquarters in north Belfast, Ballymurphy and Springhill justice groups, Amnesty International and the Committee on the Administration of Justice, which have certainly testified before the committee. They all brought that international legal weight to the lobby, which is again very clear that these proposals cannot go ahead in their current form. That has been reinforced by voices from Europe and America. Most recently, a bipartisan congressional resolution, which I believe was Resolution 888, again called on the British Government to honour its commitments under the Good Friday Agreement. Importantly for today's meeting, it also made it very clear that British Government cannot proceed with the proposals as they currently stand because of the pain and hurt that it further inflicts on families but also because it will deny people access to truth and justice. It is, again, very welcome and timely. I noted from The Times yesterday that the British Government is saying its proposals and legislation will be made clear within weeks. We have heard that since before last summer. We will wait and see whether it actually transpires this time.
Cognisant of Mr. McCord's opening statement and the context I have tried to set from our point of view, I would be interested to hear from whichever of the three witnesses, or all of them, about what exactly the impact of the proposals will be should they evolve into legislation. What does that mean for them personally? I do not mean whether they are for or against it but what impact will that have on their ability to access truth and justice? What do they need to see legally to allow them to access what it is that they want with regard to their own very personal pursuit of truth and justice?