I am very glad to be here this afternoon. Conversations like this one really matter – if we want to talk about the future, we need to be ready to talk about our past.
While the past echoes across our whole society; it rings louder and more painfully for those who have lost loved ones; and those who were injured, both physically and psychologically.
At the outset, I want to say to everyone who has suffered as a result of our troubled past, I am sorry for your loss.
I am conscious that my words may echo hollow for many people. It is three years since I was last here and I know that there are many families who feel they are no further forward.
As a police officer I have never seen it as my role to prevent the truth from emerging. As a police officer, my role has always been, and will always be, to protect life, to secure justice and to uphold the law. First and foremost, I want my police service to be at the heart of the community – rather than a so-called “arm of the state”.
I understand that families are frustrated, hurt and angry at the seemingly endless delays in their search for justice and a better understanding of what happened in the past. But those delays are not the result of one individual or, indeed, one organisation. They are the result of the existing piecemeal and entirely inadequate quagmire of processes that currently exist for dealing with the past.
As Chief Constable, I am in an impossible position, caught between legal obligations, financial constraints and public expectation. At times I have had no option other than to appeal some court judgments. I know this causes anger and frustration for families who still await answers. However, I feel I have had no choice – the PSNI simply does not have the financial or human resources to deal with the judgments as they stand; and, on occasions, the judgments are, I believe, contradictory and unworkable.
I said here in 2015 and I have said it many times since - the current approach to the past is not working. It’s not working for me; it’s not working for you; it’s not working for anyone.
In the continuing political vacuum; witnesses and members of grieving families are passing away without resolution. This simply cannot be allowed to continue; and that is why this consultation is so important.
I am very glad to be here today to be part of the discussion. I have welcomed the Stormont House Proposals from the outset. PSNI is carefully considering the Draft Bill and will provide a detailed response to the Consultation. Given our experience of dealing with the past, we have concerns about setting realistic timescales and resources; but we very much want to make these proposals work.
I have never been convinced that the criminal justice processes alone can resolve the pain in our society. The cold reality is that with each day that passes, the chances of criminal justice resolution, in the majority of cases, is increasingly slim.
This Consultation Process gives us all the opportunity to help shape a set of proposals that will bring much needed change to how we deal with the past. I know that the conversations will be challenging and require all of us to go beyond our comfort zones but we must strive for something better. We owe it to all of those who have suffered; and we owe it to the children and young people of today who have the right to a safe, confident and peaceful future.