The UK government’s plans to end all Troubles-related prosecutions are “the biggest attack yet in 23 years on our peace agreement”, delegates at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ (Ictu) conference have been told.
Patricia McKeown from the union Unison was seconding a motion tabled by her union on Tuesday on “Protecting the Peace Agreement: Dealing with the Legacy of the Past.”
The motion, she said, was about “one thing and one thing only: impunity for the British government. They want impunity for their actions, past, present and yet to come in relation to the conflict.”
Noting that there was widespread opposition to the proposals, she said there was a “united voice in this society saying they will not let that happen, and what we’re saying today is that this Congress, and all affiliates, will add their very powerful voice to that call”.
"We want a light shone on the truth ... we want that light shone now, and we will not allow the British government to cover it up," she said on the first day of the two-day conference in Belfast.
The text of the motion, which was passed by the delegates, includes a call for the incoming executive council to actively campaign against the UK government’s proposals.
An amendment added by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) called for an independent external investigation into the murder of journalist and trade unionist Martin O’Hagan, and the police handling of the investigation.
In July Northern secretary Brandon Lewis announced plans to introduce a statute of limitations banning all prosecutions of Troubles-related killings and other crimes, as well as all legacy inquests and civil cases.
Instead it proposes an approach based around a new information recovery body, which, it says, “could provide a sense of restorative justice for many more families than is currently achieved through the criminal justice system”.
Delegates also backed a motion on post-Brexit issues and the impact on workers tabled by the Public and Commercial Services union.
Proposing the motion, Gail Matthews said Brexit had exposed the "far-right underbelly" in the UK and Ireland and had "galvanised right-wing ideals".
“We have seen an increase in racism, an increase in sectarianism, particularly around the protocol. We know we have had workers here threatened with violence, which is always unacceptable.
“We have seen a rise in anti-Semitism, we have seen a rise in attacks on the Roma and Traveller communities, to the point now where we have actual fascists on the streets of Ireland, albeit they’re there in small numbers.
“We need to educate and organise against the far right. We need to educate workers, all workers, on their rights,” she said.
The congress also passed a motion calling for the provision exempting teachers in Northern Ireland from fair employment legislation to be removed.
Earlier on Tuesday representatives heard from the five political parties in the Northern Ireland Executive on the topic “What would your party do for workers’ rights in Northern Ireland?”