Brown vows to back IRA victims

 

Prime Minister Gordon Brown today said the United Kingdom will support the families of IRA terrorism victims in their representations to seek compensation with the Libyan government.

Mr Brown spoke to reporters in Berlin today before talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A dedicated Foreign Office unit will be set up to liaise with the families and the British embassy in Tripoli will help organise meetings with the Libyan government, with the first scheduled in "the next few weeks," Mr Brown said.

"It's clear we are taking all action we believe necessary to support the families in their difficult but necessary attempt to represent themselves with the Libyan government," the prime minister added.

Earlier today, it emerged Mr Brown declined to press Colonel Muammar Gadafy for compensation for IRA bomb victims out of concern that a ministerial intervention might upset relations with Libya.

Last year the prime minister met campaigners seeking a cash payout from the Gadafy regime, which supplied Semtex explosives used by republican bomb-makers.

But he told their lawyer in a letter last October that he did not consider it “appropriate” for the government to enter bilateral talks with Libya on the matter, citing the need for continued co-operation from the north African state on issues like terrorism.

In a letter to the victims’ lawyer Jason McCue, obtained by the Sunday Times,Mr Brown insisted that trade was not the “core reason” for his decision, but acknowledged that that it did now form a part of the UK-Libya relationship.

Downing Street rejected suggestions that Mr Brown’s decision was driven by the desire to avoid derailing lucrative potential oil deals involving British companies.

“As the prime minister makes absolutely clear in his letter to Mr McCue, trade considerations were not a factor in the government’s decision that it would not be appropriate to enter into direct negotiations with Libya on this issue,” said a spokesman for Number 10.

“The prime minister is sympathetic to the case put forward by the families of victims of IRA atrocities and met with a group representing them in December to listen to their concerns.”

In his letter, dated October 7th, 2008, Mr Brown said: “The UK government does not consider it appropriate to enter into a bilateral discussion with Libya on this matter.”

He insisted that “trade” was not the “core reason” for his decision, adding: “While the UK-Libya relationship does indeed include trade, bilateral co-operation is now wide-ranging on many levels, particularly in the fight against terrorism. I believe it is in all our interests for this co-operation to continue.”

The Sunday Timesalso published a letter sent in November 2008 by the then Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell to Jonathan Ganesh, who was injured in the 1996 Docklands bomb and now campaigns for IRA victims.

In it, the minister identified Libya’s role in providing for Britain’s future energy needs as a key element of the increasingly close partnership between the countries.

Mr Rammell wrote: “Libya is now a vital partner for the UK in guaranteeing a secure energy future for the UK and is also a key partner in the fight against terrorism.

“While I recognise that this will be of little comfort to you, it is vital for the UK’s present and future security that this continues.”

Jeffrey Donaldson, the Democratic Unionist MP later demanded the prime minister tell him why he was not prepared to stand up for IRA victims in the same way former US president George Bush did for American terror victims.

Mr Donaldson said: “I want to know and the people of Northern Ireland will want to know why Gordon Brown doesn’t have the same desire to stand up for the victims of IRA terrorism as George Bush showed in standing up for the American victims .

“He got a multi-billion dollar deal in terms of compensation from the Libyans.”

Mr Donaldson is part of a cross-party group of MPs preparing to travel to Tripoli for face to face talks with Libyan authorities about compensation for victims of IRA violence.

Agencies