Bitter row within British Labour over Troubles amnesty

Former Labour Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain furious his views have been ‘misrepresented’

Former Labour Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain has issued an extraordinary public rebuke to his party’s Northern Ireland spokesman Ivan Lewis in a bitter argument. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Former Labour Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain has issued an extraordinary public rebuke to his party’s Northern Ireland spokesman Ivan Lewis in a bitter argument. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Tue, May 13, 2014, 10:58

Former Labour Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain has issued an extraordinary public rebuke to his party’s Northern Ireland spokesman Ivan Lewis in a bitter argument over Mr Hain’s attitudes to an amnesty for offences committed during the Troubles.

Speaking in Belfast, Mr Lewis said Labour was “totally opposed to the concept of a blanket amnesty”, adding that Mr Hain’s “comments on these issues does not reflect Labour party policy”.

However, Mr Hain quickly responded, insisting that he had never favoured an amnesty, before he went on to question why Mr Lewis had chosen to “deliberately misrepresent my views on such a vital and sensitive matter”.

The former NI Secretary has previously argued that there should be an end to all prosecutions for offences committed before the Good Friday Agreement was reached in 1998.

“This is not desirable in a normal situation. You would never dream of doing this in England, Scotland and Wales - but the Troubles were never normal,” he said, in an interview with the London Times.

However, Mr Hain insisted that this did not amount to supporting an amnesty, saying that nine out of every 10 offences committed during the Troubles could never be brought to trial because the evidence no longer exists to back up a prosecution.

Mr Hain spoke with Mr Lewis yesterday afternoon, though the former Secretary of State refused to disclose the nature of the conversation when he spoke to The Irish Times last evening.

Clearly furious, Mr Hain said he supported the recommendations made by former Church of Ireland archbishop of Armagh Robin Eames and Denis Bradley six years ago when they proposed the creation of a Legacy Commission.

That body, which never got off the ground, would have been given five years to come forward with agreed proposals on how to deal with the past - though Eames/Bradley did not lay out final solutions.

“There are plenty of ideas about, that is what we should be working on, rather than misrepresenting me. It is an unusual situation for a former Secretary of State to be attacked in this way,” he told The Irish Times.

Meanwhile, the former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Lord David Trimble will give evidence this afternoon to the House of Commons’

Northern Ireland Affairs committee’s inquiry into letters given to Republican “On The Runs”.