Head of investigations at new NI legacy body talks of ‘peace and reconciliation’
The man tasked with leading investigations in a new Troubles legacy body in Northern Ireland has said his motivation in taking up the role is to attempt to spread peace and reconciliation.
Former senior police officer Peter Sheridan is to become commissioner for investigations at the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), which will take over hundreds of unresolved Troubles cases.
Mr Sheridan conceded that some people would be opposed to his appointment because of his past service in the RUC.
Sir Declan Morgan, who is the incoming chief commissioner of the ICRIR, also said he recognised there would be concerns about Mr Sheridan’s appointment, but stressed that the commission would be developing a new conflict of interest policy.
The commission was being created by the Government’s controversial legacy Bill, which is awaiting royal assent.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill will give a limited form of immunity from prosecution for Troubles-related offences to former terrorists who co-operate with the ICRIR.
It would also prevent future civil cases and inquests.
This is going to be a big challenge and I don't underestimate that challenge. I fully acknowledge I will not be to everyone's liking in this but I stand on my own reputation
The Bill was opposed by all major Stormont parties and victims’ campaign groups.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has indicated that the Irish government is seeking legal advice on whether to launch an inter-state legal challenge to the Bill at the European Court of Human Rights.
Mr Sheridan will become the ICRIR’s commissioner for investigations in December, giving up his current role as head of peace-building charity Co-operation Ireland.
Mr Sheridan said: “This is going to be a big challenge and I don’t underestimate that challenge.
“I fully acknowledge I will not be to everyone’s liking in this but I stand on my own reputation.
“The only way that people will come to this is if we make it work and that victims and survivors feel they are getting the answers that they deserve.”
Asked about concerns among victims over his past service with the RUC, he said: “It is not unusual in the divided nature of this society that will be the case with people, but I have spent the past 15 years in peace and reconciliation crossing all of the divides to want to make this a better place.
“When I was in policing, I stood on my own reputation and was true to myself and my own integrity.
“I fully understand that those people who don’t know me may have a different view of it, but people who I worked with, people who I worked for in the police and in the community who know me will have a different view of that.
“My career in policing was largely in Derry/Londonderry and it was in uniform, I wasn’t involved in any of the legacy cases.
In both my careers, I have sought to make peace and bring reconciliation to this place and that is my motivation in this
“But I can’t take away that I understand for some people it will be an issue and I fully recognise that.”
Mr Sheridan said he did a lot of soul-searching before agreeing to apply for the job.
He said: “I could have taken the decision to walk the beaches, but I have always believed that it is the responsibility of this generation to deal with the current problems and not to leave it to our children and grandchildren.
“I took long and hard to think about this, and I did a lot of soul-searching on whether I would apply and I didn’t apply at the outset.
“I did become more interested when Sir Declan Morgan was appointed because I thought that could bring an independence to it that I wasn’t sure was going to be there.
I can recognise that for some people they will have some concerns that Peter has a past history in the RUC, that is something that the selection panel considered very carefully in coming to a decision about the appointment
“I can leave this to somebody else or I can see if I have a contribution to make. In both my careers, I have sought to make peace and bring reconciliation to this place and that is my motivation in this.”
Sir Declan told the PA news agency: “I can recognise that for some people they will have some concerns that Peter has a past history in the RUC, that is something that the selection panel considered very carefully in coming to a decision about the appointment.
“But Peter has also indicated to us that so far as his service was concerned, he didn’t anticipate that there would be any conflicts arising in relation to the work of the commission.
“In any event, we are developing a conflict of interest policy which will specifically address that.
“Taking into account the way in which for the past 15 years he has engaged in peace building and in pursuing reconciliation, that is a strength which was particularly important in terms of finding that he was the best man for the job.”
Mr Sheridan will be supporting Sir Declan engaging with interested groups to ensure input from as wide a range of views as possible, as the commission establishes its policies and procedures ahead of opening for requests from next summer.
The investigatory arm of the commission is expected to adopt practices from Operation Kenova.
Operation Kenova, headed by former Bedfordshire chief constable Jon Boutcher, has been investigating the activities of Stakeknife, the British Army’s top agent within the Provisional IRA.
Mr Sheridan has previously been made an OBE for his services to policing and a CBE for his work at Co-operation Ireland.
When he retired from policing, he was the most senior Catholic officer in the PSNI.
During his work with Co-operation Ireland, he was instrumental in arranging the meeting between the late Queen and the then-deputy first minister Martin McGuinness in 2012.
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