Britain’s plan to end all Troubles prosecutions deplored by NI politicians, victims’ groups

Proposals characterised as ‘de facto amnesty’ for killers

Family members of Ballymurphy massacre victims Eileen McKeown (left), daughter of Joseph Corr, and Mary Corr, daughter in law of Joseph Corr, at Springhill Community House in Belfast, watching Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis announcing the UK Government’s plans to introduce legislation to end all prosecutions related to the Northern Ireland Troubles before 1998. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Family members of Ballymurphy massacre victims Eileen McKeown (left), daughter of Joseph Corr, and Mary Corr, daughter in law of Joseph Corr, at Springhill Community House in Belfast, watching Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis announcing the UK Government’s plans to introduce legislation to end all prosecutions related to the Northern Ireland Troubles before 1998. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis’s proposals to end all Troubles-related prosecutions have triggered a wave of criticism from victims’ groups and political parties in Northern Ireland.

Mr Lewis plans to introduce legislation in the autumn that would involve a statute of limitations on prosecutions relating to the Troubles up to 1998 that would apply to paramilitaries and former British soldiers and police officers.

He also proposes to end all legacy inquests and civil cases relating to the conflict.

Mr Lewis also plans to create a new truth recovery body and an oral history of the Troubles.

The North’s five main parties deplored the proposals as did many victims’ groups.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the proposals were an “effective amnesty for Troubles related crimes” and were “totally unacceptable and will be rejected by everyone in Northern Ireland who stands for justice and the rule of law”.

“There can be no equivalence between the soldier and police officer who served their country and those cowardly terrorists who hid behind masks and terrorised under the cover of darkness,” he said.

Sinn Féin’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the proposals would protect British state forces from their “dirty role” in Ireland.

She added, “Why are the British government intent in taking this route? It has to be two things in my mind. It has to be to protect state forces and their dirty role here in Ireland. I think it also has to be to protect those in suits who directed British state murder, murder of Irish citizens.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said “Boris Johnson and Brandon Lewis have chosen to close down justice for families who have campaigned for the truth about what happened to their loved ones for decades”.

“Even worse, they wrapped it up in the language of reconciliation. The message that they are sending to the victims of state and paramilitary murderers is that they should give up their campaign for truth because they have become a barrier to reconciliation. It is absolutely perverse,” he said.

Proposals

Ulster Unionist Party leader, Doug Beattie said the proposals reinforced “the injustice which has already been dealt to victims”.

“It`s the wrong path and will tread on the emotions of innocent victims and their families. Nobody has the right to deny them the hope that someday, finally, they might see justice being done,” he said.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said the proposals were “an assault on the rule of law and human rights”.

“This approach is framed solely around the perceived need to address what is a false narrative of vexatious investigations of army veterans,” he said. “It is shocking the Government facilitates a de facto amnesty across the board, including for republican and loyalist terrorists, to achieve this.”

John Ross, the East Belfast Traditional Unionist Voice representative said the proposals were a kick in the teeth not just for victims but for ex-servicemen and women who did so much for Northern Ireland”.

Sandra Peake, head of the Wave Trauma Centre, the largest cross community victims and survivors support group in Northern Ireland, said the British government was “telling those who carried out the most horrendous crimes that what they did no longer matters”.

She said the proposals were “perverting the criminal justice system while in effect telling victims and survivors to dry their eyes and be quiet”.

John Teggart, spokesman for the families of 10 people killed in Ballymurphy in west Belfast in 1971 said the proposals were a “cynical attempt” by the British government “to bring in an amnesty and a plan to bury its war crimes”.

‘Obscene’

Relatives of the victims of the 1974 IRA Birmingham pub bombings in which 21 people were killed described the plan to end all prosecutions as “obscene”.

The Pat Finucane Centre and Justice for the Forgotten in a joint statement said the proposals represented a “retrospective license to kill for the British army and RUC”.

They said, “This is not about ‘all sides’. Republicans and, to a lesser extent, loyalists were prosecuted and went to prison in their thousands. Soldiers and police were protected by the state and the criminal justice system. This is about protecting former British soldiers and ensuring that no proper investigations into collusion can take place.”

Kenny Donaldson, spokesman for Innocent Victims United which largely represents victims of IRA violence said it was “not for the prime minister of the UK, The Taoiseach or any other representative of government to arbitrarily close down justice because of vested interest, masquerading as concern for enabling Northern Ireland to move forward and draw a line under a painful past”.