London plan to end Troubles prosecutions sparks ‘robust’ party talks

Northern Assembly to be recalled to discuss strongly condemned ‘de facto amnesty’

Minister for  Foreign Affairs  Simon Coveney: “Some have sold the British government’s position during the week as a fait accompli. There is no fait accompli.” Photograph:  John Thys/AFP

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: “Some have sold the British government’s position during the week as a fait accompli. There is no fait accompli.” Photograph: John Thys/AFP

 

The leaders of the North’s five main parties held “robust” discussions with the UK government’s northern secretary on Friday over plans to end all Troubles-related prosecutions.

They made clear their opposition to the UK government proposals at the virtual meeting with Brandon Lewis, which was also attended by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Coveney said he believed it was “very clear” that consensus would not be achieved around “an amnesty or a statute of limitations” but said there was “no pre-determined outcome here”.

“Some have sold the British government’s position during the week as a fait accompli. There is no fait accompli,” he told RTÉ.

The UK government’s position “now needs to feed into a process that is attempting to achieve a consensus on a way forward”, he said, adding that he hoped progress would be made “in the next few weeks”.

On Wednesday, Mr Lewis told the House of Commons that he proposed to introduce in the autumn a statute of limitations banning all prosecutions of Troubles-related killings and other crimes.

If the proposals become law, it would mean no future prosecutions of republican or loyalist paramilitaries, or of former British soldiers and police officers.

He also proposed an end to all legacy inquests and civil cases relating to the Troubles.

Victims and survivors

The head of Northern Ireland’s Human Rights Commission, Les Allamby, said on Friday that the plans “appear to disregard the requirements for an effective investigation under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights”.

The Northern Assembly is to be recalled from summer recess on Tuesday to discuss the plans, which have been strongly condemned by political parties and victims groups in the North as a “de facto amnesty”.

Assembly members will debate a motion rejecting the British government’s proposals, and calling for victims and survivors to have a “full, material and central role and input into the content and design of structures to address the legacy of the past”.

Speaking following Friday’s meeting, the DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, said he had outlined the position of victims who were “very concerned by the government’s proposals for what they believe amounts to some form of amnesty”.

Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly said his party leader, Mary Lou McDonald, had “made it very clear, as indeed other parties made it very clear, that the issue of an amnesty of a statute of limitations was entirely unacceptable.

The Alliance Party leader, Naomi Long, said her party would not “provide cover” for “anything that amounts to an amnesty, and in a similar vein SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said there was a “strong consensus among party leaders” that the proposals “cannot be allowed to proceed”.

‘Criminal justice’

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said the government “must widen their proposals to incorporate a criminal justice element or they will risk inflicting more pain on innocent victims whose families have already sacrificed so much”.

A UK government spokesman said following the meeting that all parties and both it and the Irish Government had “made their current positions clear, but also reaffirmed its commitment to finding agreement on this vital issue for Northern Ireland”.

On Friday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said “unilateralism” did not work when implementing the terms of the Belfast Agreement, and called for a “consensus-based approach”.

Separately, Mr Eastwood revealed on Friday that he had received death threats online and by email after he used parliamentary privilege to reveal the identity of Soldier F – the former member of the British army charged with murder on Bloody Sunday – in the House of Commons earlier this week.

The SDLP leader told the BBC it was “not nice, particularly when you have a family”, but said he had “done what I thought was right on behalf of the Bloody Sunday families. Those people have faced a whole lot worse than death threats.”