The introduction of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill is a tentative step in the right direction for progressing how we deal with the very emotive subject of legacy.
As Veterans Commissioner for Northern Ireland, I have a duty to represent and articulate the views of veterans who served during Operation Banner and the tens of thousands of who still live in Northern Ireland. I have spent the last 20 months engaging tirelessly in all corners of Northern Ireland speaking to veterans and their families, from all services, about what is important to them, especially in matters relating to legacy. Nearly all that I speak to, talk of the desire for a fair and balanced system where their service is recognised for what it was, as opposed to being demonised and inverted by some.
Of the many veterans that I have spoken to, none of them want their service in the protection of society equated to the heinous acts of terrorism. They are proud to have served society to ensure a more stable and peaceful Northern Ireland that we enjoy today, and have nothing to hide.
The current system is broken and does not serve families, victims or veterans well, with blurred memories and unreliable evidence that does not deliver well in either truth or justice. I acknowledge the great pain and trauma of losing loved ones, living with life changing injuries and indeed living in a constant fear for your life, for which some affected may never be able to reconcile. Through this legislation we must look at how we can best support families to obtain the answers to the questions they are longing for, in the hope that some degree of understanding might one day be achieved.
During the troubles, thousands of men and women risked their lives daily to prevent civil war in Northern Ireland, and hundreds lost their lives at the hands of terrorism as a consequence of their service. I hope that the prospect of a comprehensive, balanced and factual history of what occurred here during the dark days of our troubled past will emphasise the bravery of the men and women who wore the uniform (whether police, prison service or military), and protected the innocent from those who brought terrorism upon our society.
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