Amnesty for killings during Troubles would be ‘huge mistake’, Coveney warns

Donaldson says North needs to move beyond examination of past towards healing

 

An amnesty for killings during the Troubles would be a “huge mistake”, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has warned.

In the wake of the collapse of murder cases against two ex-British soldiers and reports the British government is looking at a de facto amnesty covering the conflict, Mr Coveney said perpetrators must be held accountable.

“Murders and breaches of the law in the past during the Troubles must be accountable,” he said. “Families deserve truth and they deserve justice.”

On Friday, the North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said it was dropping the case against a British army veteran known only as Soldier F for two murders and five attempted murders on Bloody Sunday in Derry in January 1972.

Another prosecution against Soldier B for the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty - shot twice in the head in Derry in July 1972 - and the wounding of his cousin Christopher was also being discontinued, the PPS said.

The PPS said testimony from the soldiers given to the Royal Military Police after the killings would be inadmissible in a trial because of the manner in which they were obtained.

Soldier F

On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered at Derry’s Guildhall Square in support of the Bloody Sunday and Hegarty families. A poster purporting to identify soldier F was left at the scene, demanding “no more anonymity”.

Mr Coveney said it had been a “very traumatising and difficult week for families in Derry” and that he and British Northern secretary Brandon Lewis have agreed to “move forward on a new dialogue on the legacy of the past and how to deal with it.”

On speculation that the British government will use the collapsed prosecutions, including two other murder cases against ex-soldiers dropped earlier this year for the same reason, to push for a blanket Troubles-era amnesty, Mr Coveney said he “warned strongly” against any statute of limitations on prosecutions.

“I think that would be a huge mistake,” he told RTÉ’s This Week.

“I think victims and families would be extremely upset by that, and I don’t believe it should happen.”

The British and Irish governments had already brokered a deal with the main parties in the North -the Stormont House Agreement - on how to deal with the legacy of the conflict, he said.

This included the establishment of an investigations unit, an option outside of court to establish the truth and an agreed context to be managed which accommodate differing views of the past.

Legacy

“Any approach to legacy in Northern Ireland must centre around what is good for families and society, on a path to reconciliation,” added Mr Coveney.

“There shouldn’t be any other political consideration in this regard.”

Mr Coveney said “regardless of whether someone wore a uniform or not, if they murdered somebody and broke the law, they should be accountable.”

Meanwhile, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said society in Northern Ireland needs to move “beyond an examination of the past” towards “reconciliation and healing”.

He said a system is needed that recognises the injustices that happened in the Troubles, to allow people to move on.

He told Sky News: “I think we need a process that moves us from where we are to where we can finally say, well, look, we’ve examined the past, we have given people the opportunity to explore whether there is the prospect of prosecutions against those who’ve murdered their loved ones.

“And then, yes, we need to move to the next phase of the peace process. We need to move our society beyond an examination of the past, to the kind of reconciliation and healing that we desire to see in Northern Ireland.

“So we need some form of process that recognises the suffering of many, the injustice that many feel in Northern Ireland.

“I don’t think you can pull a veil over that. I don’t think you could ignore that. I think that, if we’re going to have healing, we need to have recognition and acknowledgement.”

‘De facto amnesty’

Minister of Justice in the North Naomi Long has called for clarity from the British government on proposals to introduce a stature of limitations on legacy killings.

She said: “It would be a de facto amnesty for everyone who committed those offences during the Troubles.

“It may be where the British government is taking the process, but it certainly isn’t where Alliance stands.

“We believe that it is right that, where the evidence is available and the prosecutorial test is met, that people should have access to justice.

“Because I firmly believe that by denying people access to justice, we will create further grievance further hurt and further division in our community. I think that that’s a huge risk.

“I also don’t believe that it will be human rights compliant, because, under Article Two, I cannot see how, without the full consent of the entire community, you’re able to avoid the prosecutorial part of this process.”

Prosecutions

Ms Long also said it should not be taken as read that other prosecutions will fail because of the outcome in the Bloody Sunday cases.

She told BBC’s Sunday Politics: “We have always known that there will be a limited number of historic cases that will be able to be successfully prosecuted at this remove, due to the passing of witnesses, due to the processes of the time and due to the lack of evidence.

“But that does not equate to justifying saying that no case, even where there are all of those things in place, should be able to make its way to the courts.

“That’s a fundamental difference that we need to bear in mind.

“Because if a family know that there is the evidence, the witnesses, and it makes the evidential threshold, to deny them the right to take their case to court, I think, would be entirely wrong.”

Ms Long said the basis for forthcoming talks between the British and Irish governments on legacy issues is not clear.

“We need clarity on that,” she said. “We have already gone through this process and arrived at the Stormont House Agreement.” – Additional reporting PA