No need for international team to investigate Troubles’ deaths

I’ve worked alongside an international police force – a United Nations’ operation to fill the law and order vacuum left in post-conflict Kosovo after the withdrawal of the Serbs. It worked there. Indeed, it had to work for there was no alternative. Foreign expertise needed to be drafted in.

That is not always the case.

Take Northern Ireland.

The clamour around Stormont for an Historic Investigations Unit (HIU) has been voluble and persistent, with a proposed remit to investigate the 1,800 Troubles-related deaths, including around 400 attributed to the military, police and other forces of the state.

All well and good; except we already have an effective and professional police force. It’s called the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and interacts on an equal standing with colleagues across the UK, not to mention the Garda Siochana and Interpol.

The PSNI has its own section dedicated to exploring the events of recent history: the Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB).

With all this in place it is hard to see why an HIU would deliver a better result for the friends and family of the deceased who, rightly, still demand answers. It is harder still to see why the HIU would need to recruit from abroad – not just Ireland and the rest of the UK, but continental Europe and even South Africa – to carry out its work.

In effect it will be an international police force, with a strength of between 250-300 investigators and other staff, working parallel to the PSNI but very separate from it.

The HIU will be neither servants nor agents of the crown but an autonomous force with operational control falling to the Director of the HIU, not the PSNI Chief Constable. It will have a substantial budget allocated by the Department of Justice through the policing board and is set to run for an initial five years, with the provision for one year extensions.

The resources being muted for the HIU are impressive. But why could those same resources not be allocated to the PSNI team?

The Ulster Unionist Party is the only political party at the Stormont Castle talks who are against any form of international police force being brought into Northern Ireland to police its citizens. Which is not the same as saying that the LIB should not be regularly reviewed to ensure it is compliant with the ideals of the proposed HIU. If there are shortcomings in the current set up then why not correct them rather than dismantle an already-established system?

Northern Ireland is not Kosovo. There is no law and order vacuum here and there is no requirement for a parallel international police force operating alongside the PSNI to investigate UK citizens.

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