Addressing The Legacy of Northern Ireland's Past

Closed 5 Oct 2018

Opened 11 May 2018


Foreword by the Secretary of State

Since my appointment as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, many people have told me about the suffering that victims and survivors of the Troubles have endured.  These stories are deeply moving. It is clear that the hurt and suffering caused by decades-old events have had a profound and lasting impact on individuals, families and communities.  Victims and survivors come from different backgrounds; have unique experiences; and varying needs.  They, and others across society, have different views on how to move forward on what are often referred to as ‘legacy’ matters.  Many seek investigations and justice through the courts.  Some are looking for information about the incidents that affected them or their loved ones.  Others want to leave the past behind.  There is, however, broad agreement that the system currently used is not delivering enough for victims, for survivors and for wider society.  
Providing a better way to address these legacy issues is a priority for the UK Government.  Through this consultation, I am keen to listen to the concerns of victims, survivors and other interested parties and to build consensus on workable proposals that command widespread support so that we can move forward. In the spirit of meaningful consultation, all views will be considered carefully to inform next steps.
I believe there are four important things we must consider as we try to find the best way to address the past. First, and foremost, any way forward must seek to meet the needs of victims and survivors. Second, it must promote reconciliation so that, in coming to terms with the past, we enable the people of Northern Ireland to move on to build a better future. Third, in order to build a shared future for all, the proposals must reflect broad political consensus and be balanced, fair, equitable, and crucially proportionate. Fourth, the proposals must follow the rule of law. As the Government’s manifesto for Northern Ireland at the 2017 General Election made clear, “We also continue to believe that any approach to the past must be fully consistent with the rule of law. Conservatives in government have consistently said that we will not introduce amnesties or immunities from prosecution.” This Government has always shared the view that amnesties are not the right approach and believes that justice should be pursued.
I recognise that there are different views on how to address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland, such as those expressed in the April 2017 report published by the House of Commons Defence Committee.  For that reason, while I believe the Stormont House Agreement institutions are the best way forward, this consultation also welcomes views from those who might have other ideas, either about how the institutions should work, or about alternatives to the institutions themselves.
This Government will never forget the huge debt of gratitude we owe to our Armed Forces and Police Officers. Over 250,000 people served in Northern Ireland during Operation Banner the longest continuous military deployment in our country’s history – the vast majority with great distinction.  More than 3,500 people lost their lives during the Troubles, including over 1,000 members of the security forces. We will always salute the heroism and courage they displayed in upholding democracy and the rule of law in Northern Ireland.  A Conservative Government will reject any attempts to rewrite the history of the past that seeks to justify or legitimise republican or loyalist terrorism or which seeks to displace responsibility from the people who perpetrated acts of terrorism
The Stormont House Agreement in December 2014 reached broad political consensus to establish four institutions to address the past after eleven weeks of intensive talks. Since then, the UK Government has engaged with all of the main political parties in Northern Ireland to produce draft proposals on how to take forward implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.  Whilst agreement has not been reached on every detail, the UK Government considers that the draft proposals take account of the many views expressed and that sufficient consensus has now been reached to seek the views of the public.  A draft Bill, which is published alongside this paper, outlines detailed legislation to establish the Stormont House institutions.  This consultation document explains the technical detail that is included in the Bill on how the four Stormont House legacy institutions could function.  I believe that these proposals represent the most effective and far reaching proposals to address Northern Ireland’s past and promote further reconciliation.
In parallel with the proposed new institutions, the Stormont House Agreement also contained a commitment for the Northern Ireland Executive to implement a comprehensive Mental Trauma Service and to take steps to ensure that victims and survivors have access to high quality services, including advocate-counsellor assistance.  The Agreement also set out the need for the Executive to take appropriate steps to improve the way legacy inquests are conducted and to seek an acceptable way forward on the proposal for a pension for severely physically injured victims.  These elements of the Stormont House Agreement are for the Northern Ireland Executive to take forward and so are not covered by this consultation document. The UK Government, however, does want all elements of the Stormont House Agreement legacy framework to be effectively implemented, and will continue to work with the political parties to ensure that this happens. The Government would view an early commitment from the Northern Ireland Executive to consult publicly on proposals for a pension for severely physically injured victims as a positive step towards much needed progress on this issue.
There are no easy answers for addressing such a traumatic and difficult period in our history. As stated, the Government believes that the approach provided for under the Stormont House Agreement is the best way forward, reflecting the broad based political agreement, upholding the rule of law, and proceeding in a manner that is balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable.  I am confident that the new legacy bodies will be a significant improvement on what we have now for the victims and survivors of terrorism and for former members of the armed forces and police officers.   
I look forward to receiving your views.  I hope that those most affected by the Troubles will participate. Now is the time for everyone with an interest in addressing Northern Ireland’s past to have their say. 






1.1     Context

Over 3,500 people were killed during the period of the Troubles.  The Troubles have had a deep and varied impact on people across Northern Ireland and beyond. This impact is still being felt today.  In recent years a great deal of effort has been made to address the legacy of the past and find a way to move forward.  The closure of the Historical Enquiries Team in December 2014 left more than a thousand cases outstanding and there are over 50 open inquests into almost 100 Troubles-related deaths.  Many of these cases still require investigation but there is general agreement that the current system in place to address outstanding cases is not delivering enough for victims, survivors and wider society.  It is clear that the needs of victims and survivors go beyond criminal investigations.  In the Stormont House Agreement, the UK Government gave a joint commitment to establish new institutions in an effort to meet this wide range of needs in a way that secures confidence across the community in Northern Ireland.  This consultation paper seeks views on the Government’s proposals for addressing the legacy of the past.

1.2     Structure of the consultation

Part one describes the current system for addressing the past, provides an overview of how the existing methods for investigation work and sets out some of the difficulties that would remain if the current system is not changed.  

Part two provides an overview of the legacy-related Stormont House Agreement proposals, describing the new institutions in detail. It also explains how the institutions are designed to address different aspects of the legacy of the past. The general principles underpinning the proposed new institutions are set out, including the requirement to operate in ways that are balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable.  The Government believes that these institutions, which represent the balance of a political agreement between all the parties to the Stormont House Agreement, including the UK Government and Irish Government, provide the best way to address the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past.

Part two also seeks views on the Government’s proposal on this basis to legislate to establish the institutions in the Northern Ireland (Stormont House Agreement) Bill, a draft of which has been published with this consultation paper.

The Bill sets out draft legislation for:

  1. The Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) – an independent institution to take forward outstanding investigations into Troubles-related deaths. The HIU would take on the outstanding work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI’s) Historical Enquiries Team and the outstanding legacy work of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.  The HIU would have policing powers and the UK Government and its agencies would be legally compelled to provide it with full disclosure of information.  After completing an investigation, the HIU would provide a report to the family of the deceased. The HIU would have a dedicated family support function to assist families through the process. 


  1. The Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR) – an independent institution, established by international agreement between the UK Government and the Irish Government, that enables family members to seek and privately receive information about the Troubles-related deaths of their relatives. Engagement with the ICIR would be entirely voluntary and the ICIR would only seek information in those cases where families have submitted a request.  Families from the United Kingdom and from Ireland would be able to seek information from the ICIR.


  1. The Oral History Archive (OHA) – an independent archive that enables people from all backgrounds to share experiences and narratives related to the Troubles.  Sharing experiences with the OHA would be entirely voluntary and, as well as collecting and archiving new material, the OHA would look to draw together existing oral history projects.  A research project would be established as part of the OHA to produce a factual historical timeline and statistical analysis of the Troubles.  The archive would be the responsibility of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.


  1. The Implementation and Reconciliation Group (IRG) – an institution to promote reconciliation and anti-sectarianism and to review and assess the implementation of the other legacy institutions proposed in the Stormont House Agreement.  After five years, the IRG would commission an independent academic report on themes using an evidence base established by the work of the other legacy institutions.

For convenience, this document sets out those clauses of the draft legislation which are associated with sections of this consultation. These are presented alongside the section's title as appropriate.  

Associated Documents

  • Easy Read Consultation Document
  • Summary Consultation Document
  • Equality screening
  • Draft Northern Ireland (Stormont House Agreement) Bill and Explanatory Notes
  • Stormont House Agreement
  • Paper on Implementation and Reconciliation Group - Independent Academic Report

Associated documents are available on the consultation website at and can also be obtained in hardcopy on request by email at or by writing to:

Legacy Policy Team

Northern Ireland Office

Stormont House

Stormont Estate




Why your views matter

2.1           Who can respond to this consultation?

The Government is seeking views on these proposals from all interested parties, individuals and groups from across the United Kingdom on the matters covered by this consultation. 

2.2           Purpose of this consultation

The proposals set out here require primary legislation and will have a direct impact on many people’s lives.  The Government recognises the need to keep the public informed on such important matters and to allow people the opportunity to comment on the policy proposals. 

This consultation therefore invites people to answer a number of questions in relation to the proposals, including in relation to the provisions in the draft Northern Ireland (Stormont House Agreement) Bill.  These questions are posed throughout the document. A complete list of questions can be found at the end of the consultation document.

What happens next

2.6     Government response

A summary of responses to this consultation and details of the action that the Government will take, or has taken, will be published on the Government website at The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) will aim to publish this information within twelve weeks of the consultation closing date. 

Subject to the outcome of the consultation, the NIO would like to continue to keep you informed about progress on addressing the legacy of the past.  You can choose not to receive further communication from us on the response form. 


  • All stakeholders


  • NI