A unionist MP and former soldier has said loyalists should be included in the latest effort to achieve agreement on addressing Northern Ireland’s past.
Tom Elliott, MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone, was part of an Ulster Unionist Party delegation that recently met Secretary of State James Brokenshire at Stormont.
At the same conference, Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan spoke of the political responsibility to deliver a framework for dealing with legacy issues.
There have been numerous attempts to do so, but the past remains stuck in political mud.
Loyalists have not been part of the talks and, writing recently on this website, Winston Irvine of the Progressive Unionist Party, warned that their absence would “impede and sabotage” progress.
Irvine described the need for “honesty about what really can be achieved for victims and survivors” – meaning that reality should not be overstated.
One suggested means of involving loyalists is through a Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) formed around this time last year.
In a joint-statement then, the UDA, UVF and linked Red Hand Commando made a pitch to be included in legacy discussions.
The proposed legacy structure includes a new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) and an Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR), but arguments continue over fine detail including British national security and what information will be withheld.
For any information process to work it will need the input of loyalists.
“I think they need an opportunity to put their views across,” MP Tom Elliott said.
“Republicans put their views across. If we are going to have another consultation then of course they [loyalists]need to be involved. We need to hear from them,” he said.
While arguments continue over national security, there are other questions not just in relation to loyalist cooperation with any legacy process, but what input there will be from the IRA.
Who has the answer to that question?
Brokenshire has not given details of his planned public consultation but, in political circles some have spoken of hopes for progress this autumn. Others are more cautious.
“Another round of consultation will multiply what he has been hearing from the victims in terms of arguments rather than agreements,” Tom Elliott said.
“I doubt there will be an autumn agreement, perhaps progress by then but not necessarily an agreement,” he continued.
“That could be progress by the UK Government without the support of all the parties.”
Since the Eames/Bradley report of 2009 this question of a process and structure to address Northern Ireland’s past has been mired in political arguments.
So much so, that one observer of events recently suggested that the past has become so “personalised” to the point of being “unsolvable”.