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Bloody Sunday, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

Review of historical inquiries ordered

(by Liam Clarke, Sunday Times)

Peter Hain is to announce an independent review of how Northern Ireland should deal with its bloody past. The secretary of state's initiative is in response to widespread discontent at the amount of money and resources being spent on public inquiries into historical events.

The review team will be asked to report back within 18 months. A Northern Ireland Office source said it was a final attempt to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

"There will be a massive consultation process to see if society can reach consensus on how to deal with the past," he said. "There is no question of just trying to impose solutions, we don't have them. Memorial funds and victims will be included, as will truth, recovery and justice."

Hain and Tony Blair are keen to get the review under way before the prime minister leaves office on June 27. Both men believe that coming to terms with the past is the last hurdle facing Northern Ireland now that policing has been agreed and political stability has been restored.

Three public inquiries into killings during the Troubles are under way and another two are planned. The estimated budget for these is £17.5m, but the inquiries are likely to overrun, like the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

It is still considering the evidence of 900 witnesses over five years of hearings and is not expected to report until late next year. The latest estimate for cost is £200m, or £6.64 for every household in Britain.

Nuala O'Loan, the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland, has conducted investigations into Troubles killings involving the police and RUC informers. She fears that such inquiries will interfere with her duty to oversee the PSNI.

Justin Felice, O'Loan's head of investigations, said: "Truth recovery is just not going to work in our present format."

Dave Cox, a former Metropolitan police detective who heads the Historical Enquiries Team, also favours a different approach.

"We have to deal with 3,268 deaths in 2,516 incidents; some were mass murders," he said. "We get about £3,000 a head to deal with these deaths while the Bloody Sunday inquiry runs into tens of millions and the Billy Wright inquiry has cost £7m so far."

June 11, 2007

This article first appeared in the Sunday Times on June 10, 2007.