02/03/2014 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


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In the end, it was a case of crisis averted, but at one point this week


the collapse of the Assembly looked like it might just happen - again.


The political storm blew up in the wake of the collapse of the John


Downey court case and the light the court judgement shed on secret


letters issued to IRA 'on-the-runs'. As the blame game continues, where


has this past turbulent week left the political process and the


ongoing attempts to resolve our troubled past? Joining me now is the


Justice Minister, David Ford. Thank you for joining us. First of all, a


development today. Peter Hain wrote in the Sunday Telegraph and has


called for the soldiers involved in the Bloody Sunday killings not to be


prosecuted. Do you agree? It almost looks like playing a part


in one pseudo- amnesty, he is now try to play a part in another. When


the Attorney General suggested we should draw a line under the past it


was almost universally rejected. There are difficulties with evidence


when you go back that far but it does not mean we should abandon the


opportunity if there is one in some cases. There is an anomaly in the


system and does that not need to be addressed?


The system is full of anomalies, mostly because of the way the


British government was making side deals. That is the reality and we


are living with those anomalies as people like we try to get the


justice system to work properly today.


You can understand why Unionists are pretty angry. How people potentially


involved in violent crime are given a potentially "get out free card" as


they describe it? But the fact that somebody was on


duty in one case doesn't mean they did not commit a crime. That is the


way very highest standards should be held for those who are responsible


as agents of the state. We have to look at the practical realities as


to what may not be possible without saying we draw a line and


effectively grant an amnesty without an attempt to get justice where it


is possible. What would your advice to Peter Hain be?


I am not sure his advice is being particularly well received. Perhaps


the best thing he could do is to give a full account of everything he


did to the enquiry. In the Sunday Times, Peter Robinson


accused Peter Hain of misleading Parliament over the on-the-run


letters in 2006 and 2007, but Peter Hain refuted that. When you look at


what he said in Hansard, it makes for interesting reading, doesn't it?


Some of the remarks appeared to be less than the complete truth. He


said that he said it had to be addressed. I think he needs to


examine his precise background and perhaps that is something the judge


will do in the coming months. You got clarity on Thursday night,


Friday morning that there are five "live" OTR cases currently in the


system for consideration. Should they be stopped, as the DUP has


demanded? I simply don't have enough detail


what the status of that is whether they can be stopped. I have a track


-- asked for legal advice as to what the department can do. It is a


really unclear position. You will have heard the Secretary of State


saying it is a devolved issue, but it was never a devolved issue. The


Northern Ireland Office continued and accepted a call from a senior


official on Friday that they were still responsible for those five


even though we are still four years into devolution.


So as far as you are concerned, you are the justice minister but these


five cases have not been devolved to you?


I have made it clear that I want no part in Peterhead and's shabby


scheme. -- in Peter Hain's shabby scheme. It is unclear as to quote --


whether there was any right for The Northern Ireland Office to continue


to pursue them after devolution. It looks like being scheme is


continuing, doesn't it? It appears to pay but whether it is


legally the case is something on which I am seeking advice.


Presumably being plucked -- the enquiry will clarify some of this,


do you think? It is not expected to report until


the end of May. We know something about the broad terms of reference


but there are frequently differences as to how they are interpreted. If a


judge wants to get into the full details of the case we will have a


better chance. The select committee in Westminster may well be looking


at the detail if they don't think a judge lead enquiry has gone far


enough. The most senior... It turns out that


the most senior civil servant in your department, Nick Perry, knew


about what you've called "this shabby, back door deal" all along.


You did not! I don't know how much Nick knew. The


civil service code makes it clear that civil servants serve the


minister who leads the department they are in. The day they move


departments they have allegiance to a different minister. And that is


how it should be. It is the principle of a nonpolitical civil


service working in the interests of the ministers who are there by the


political process. I would be annoyed if people who moved from the


Department of Justice were telling what went on in that department. You


might think I would have wished to know from Nick Perry, but there are


much wider implications and his behaviour has been proper. No one is


suggesting anything to the contrary but people might be wondering that


it is not a good example of joined up government?


Files have markers put in them when governments changed and when


ministers changed saying, the information below this is not to be


revealed to the new ministers and there are lots of complications


around that. What other wider political


implications, do you think? Night -- Mike Nesbitt declared that as far as


he is concerned, the Haass talks are dead in the water and he is taking


no part. Is that your position? No, that was a foolish thing for him


to say. It doesn't matter what emerges from however many


enquiries, five parties have the responsibility for leading the


executive. Collectively, we have the responsibility to build a better


shared future for Northern Ireland and to ensure we put the past behind


us in a way which deals with it honestly and comprehensively and we


can provide something for which I children and grandchildren can be


proud. If we say, I wash my hands of it, we will not get anywhere.


But this situation of the past 72 hours has fatally wounded that


process, has it not? Maybe the four of us will have to


carry on without him. Fundamentally, the people of


Northern Ireland, through their elected representatives, have to


solve the problems whatever else is happening.


Do you think the DUP will stay in the process? I think they have


distanced themselves from Mike Nesbitt. I am not sure he wants to


be relevant, but certainly I want the Alliance party to be relevant


and I will continue to do a good job in Justice. Those are the key things


for Northern Ireland, moving forward and not falling out over the past in


a way which stops us moving forward together.


Thank you. Let's hear from our guests now, the commentator Newton


Emerson and Dr Cathy Gormley-Heenan from the University of Ulster. Hard


to know where to start, isn't it? Let us talk about Peter Hain and the


issue of whether or not soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday should be


prosecuted. You can understand it will create another political


altercation? Yes, there is no reason why Bloody


Sunday should be treated any differently to any other


atrocities. The Unionist position is that special treatment shouldn't be


given to the victims so why should it be given to the perpetrators. It


is an attempt to create another de facto amnesty. The object of letting


off the soldiers is that nothing could be prosecuted from 40 years


ago. Why would that be the case? We are prosecuting radio celebrities


from 40 years ago so are you saying a multiple murder is less serious?


It is revealing of a new agenda to have a de facto amnesty but that is


not legally or politically possible. It is hard for people to pick their


way through the minefield of this latest row. You have Peter Hain


saying that all of this was in the public domain and people should have


known about it and looked at what was being said in Westminster and


Stormont. Then Peter Robinson says today in the Sunday Times and


quoting answers Peter Hain gave that he says were less than open and


honest. How do you get at the facts? Hopefully, that is what the enquiry


will attempt to do. I have read about the on-the-run letters years


ago in a law journal. People interested in the peace process


probably did have a sense that something was happening. It is like


many things in Northern Ireland, it flares up at a particular point.


This past week, the issue has been more than anything that there needs


to be a renewed impetus on a process with which we deal with the past. We


have been dealing in with it since 1998 but in a piecemeal way. Maybe a


bit too pragmatic and approach. Briefly, Peter Robinson made it


clear he would resign if he did not get a satisfactory result --


response from the government. He said he got the response he was


looking for and his demands were met, where they?


I genuinely believe he was ready to resign, but not to bring down the


executive. He wanted to reassert his mandate. That is why his credit --


threat was read -- credible. I genuinely think he would have hit


the button for an election. Not to bring it down. Briefly, what about


Haass? Is it dead in the water? Mike Nesbitt thinks it is but it is an


opportunity to decouple some issues. The flags and parades were to


difficult to include as a composite block. It is an opportunity to


decouple those things and it is a new way to deal with the past.


Thank you, both. Now, let's pause for a moment as Conor Macauley takes


a look back at a turbulent week in local politics in 60 Seconds.


The stormy weather makes life tough for fishermen and they appealed to


Stormont for help. We have had to rely on charities based in England


to come and help us says something about our politicians and the


executive. A different type of storm is brewing


on the hill as the case against the man accused of the Hyde Park bombing


collapsed. John Downey is one of several on-the-run buts who were


told they were not being sought by police. Peter Robinson threatened to


resign when he hand -- heard. I am not prepared to be the head of


a government kept in the dark. The deputy called for calm claiming


others did know. We were the only people who knew


about this. David Cameron wants to know more and


appointed a judge to lead a review. I agree with Peter Robinson that it


is right to get to the bottom of what happened.


Conor Macauley reporting. An attempt in the House of Lords to extend


libel laws to Northern Ireland was last week withdrawn after a


government minister warned that the Stormont executive must have primacy


on the issue. When the Defamation Act wrote about first major changes


to the UK libel laws since the 19th century, Sammy Wilson halted its


extension here. Joining me now to discuss this is Lord Bew, who is


part of that attempt in the Lords to extend reform here, and the lawyer


Paul Tweed who's opposed. Why was the attempt made at


Westminster? When you get a Northern Ireland


provisions Bill going through the house, and it is a rare advent, it


is inevitable people will make the attempt. There is a lot of feeling


in the House of Lords on this issue, there is an attempt to have a debate


about it at least. The truth is, the matter is now over. The Minister


made it clear for a number of reasons that they will not intervene


and it is now a matter for the assembly. A report will be set up


from the Law Commission with a distinguished academic to work on


it. That is where the debate and focus now is. It was worth airing


last week again at Westminster and that concerns exist about freedom of


expression here. It is now at a weaker level than the rest of the


UK. What is your basic concern?


The fundamental concern for me personally as an academic, there is


an issue about academic freedom and what academics can save. It is also


about political and historical matters. This bill extends academic


freedom. It defends the idea of a public interest defence for the


media as a whole. If we are going to deal with the past, particularly


here, one has to have the freest possible discussion and there really


isn't any question that historically the courts have been used to limit


in some way of the amount of freedom... As far as all parties are


concerned in London, it is supposed to be the correct context for public


debate. The absence of this legislation curtails free and open


discussion, critically about the key issue of past?


In my opinion, it was outrageous that these peers attempted to impose


legislation Northern Ireland which, I should say, has been rejected by


Scotland. The Republic of Ireland's laws are broadly similar to our own


as they currently stand so there is no need for change whatsoever. As


far as our libel laws are concerned, there are plenty of


safety mechanisms built in. I act for both plaintiffs and newspapers


and just before Christmas I acted for a national newspaper in


defending a case of so-called" is libel tourism" . We successfully did


that. So the law as it currently stands is effective. My big concern


is access to justice for the ordinary man on the street. We talk


about academics and scientists and I'd sample size with those views. If


he feels there is a genuine threat -- I sympathise with those views. I


would be happy to countenance specific change in the law but not a


whole scale introduction of an owner is law that completely makes it


impossible for the ordinary person to take legal proceedings here in


Northern Ireland. Finally, a key change is the removal of the jury


is. I sat on all the Ministry of Justice panels in London when they


debated the English change to the law and I did not get one argument


that convinced me that juries were not doing a good job. It is very


significant that the one thing the press are worried about here are


their readers, the general public, deciding whether they have performed


properly and fairly in terms of their reporting.


You, as a libel lawyer, may find yourself very busy if the status quo


is main stained -- maintained. There will not be a rush of


oligarchs coming to Northern Ireland, believe me. I work from


London, Dublin and Belfast and less than 5% of my work takes place in


Belfast. I don't mind. I will work within the law and what the law


gives to me but I cannot get justice for the general public where they


have no access to legal aid. We have always been treated differently in


Northern Ireland. We cannot recover insurance premiums so we have always


been treated differently. How do you respond? He can


understand your specific and concern about academics but what about


members of the public? He feels he represents their best interests and


an extension of this legislation would not serve them?


The whole problem with libel law is the conflict between the need to


have an -- a right to defend your reputation and the freedom of


debate. After a long process of examination we have come up with a


new position in Westminster. If you say the Republic of Ireland is


different, that is right. We see massive scandals in the Republic of


Ireland and there was not one serious article in the press


anticipating anything leading up to the whole area of the collapse of


the economy and bankers and so on. Does this tell you you had the


requisite level of freedoms of discussion here? It is true that


Scotland is different but it has its own tradition of law which is


elaborate. We have had UK law here essentially. You are not asking our


judiciary to operate on an old second-hand car. The media in London


will be operating according to the new model and it creates a number of


anomalies and difficulties for the judiciary here in Belfast.


We are not the same as Scotland, what about that point, nor the legal


system -- system in the Republic of Ireland. Our law is broadly similar


to Scotland and Ireland. Putting this in perspective, the number of


libel actions that have come before the courts in Belfast over the last


30 years are probably to every decade at Oaks. A survey was carried


out in England about the so-called libel tourism -- every decade at


most. This is a non-issue. A non-problem. The press are sensitive


about it to protect their financial issue -- interests but it is not an


issue. Thank you both for joining us.


Newton says it is not an issue. I am fed up defending libel reform


because everyone thinks it is about journalists. The Defamation Act is


about protecting academics and scientists. I follow alarming cases


where scientists were pursued because companies didn't like the


results. There are thousands of jobs like that in Northern Ireland in a


university and Major Forbes -- firms. It will only take one of


these ridiculous cases to make as an international pariah and a similar


risk applies to IT. Those industries need to get off the face -- fence


and defend their interests because the media cannot do it alone.


Mike Nesbitt's billows out for consultation. We know that it is a


big responsibility on our show ministers shoulders? They should


take his day from the deliberations in the house of Lords because they


have much experience in the reading of these bills. We have no formal


opposition or an effective opposition, the media plays that


role and anything that Nowadays we take the issue of


fairness in employment for granted. I have never felt it important


to ask anybody's religion when I'm going to employ them


as a sheet metal worker. This is the story of fair


employment in Northern Ireland. it masked a much greater problem


in terms of educational disadvantage. The Fair Employment Act of 1989


changed Northern Ireland's society dramatically.


We still have a way to go. But are we on the right track?


Absolutely. What does Austria want?


I mean, what does she want?


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