NI Assembly to be recalled to ‘send message’ over Troubles amnesty

Five Executive parties and Simon Coveney to meet Northern Ireland secretary over plan

Family members of Ballymurphy massacre victims watch proceedings in the House of Commons. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Family members of Ballymurphy massacre victims watch proceedings in the House of Commons. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

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The Northern Ireland Assembly is set to be recalled from its summer recess next week to allow MLAs to make clear their opposition to plans by the UK government to end all Troubles-related prosecutions.

Tabling the recall petition, the SDLP deputy leader and Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon, said it would “send a clear message to the British government that we will not consent to this course of action”.

“These proposals are hostile to the interests of victims and survivors, they are opposed by all Executive parties and the British government must withdraw them now,” she said.

As of Thursday evening, the recall petition had received 22 signatures, and was expected to comfortably reach the required 30 names overnight.

Sinn Féin has said it will support the Assembly recall, and it is understood Alliance Party MLAs will also sign it.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said on social media that the Assembly would be recalled “in order for us all to put on record our firm opposition to the British government’s plans to cover up their role in the conflict”.

“Equally it allows us to demonstrate support for victims and survivors and their right to access justice,” she said.

The leaders of the five parties in the Executive, and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, are expected to meet Northern secretary Brandon Lewis over the proposals on Friday.

Writing in the Guardian, Mr Coveney warned the UK government that to adopt such an approach would be “politically and legally unsustainable, and would damage relationships and trust critical to the protection of the achievements of the peace process”.

“We do not believe an approach based on a general statute of limitations would be compatible with the obligations of the European Convention on Human Rights,” he wrote. “It would undoubtedly be tested in the courts, and if it failed there, it would only add years of uncertainty and misery for families with no benefit.”

No prosecutions

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.

This would mean that there would be no future prosecutions of republican or loyalist paramilitaries, or of former British soldiers and police officers, most likely up to 1998.

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

The widespread condemnation of the proposals, which have been criticised as a “de facto amnesty”, continued in the North on Thursday, with victims’ groups and members of the five Executive parties making clear their opposition.

The North’s Minister for Justice, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, said that although the UK government’s intention to introduce a statute of limitations may be a ‘done deal’ politically, she believed it would lead to an ‘enormous’ number of legal challenges.

“Whilst talking about putting a bar on prosecutions may sound like it draws a line under this, I would expect that any attempt to do so will end up in the European Court of Human Rights ultimately.”

She also said if the plans became law, her party might have to consider whether or not it could take on the justice portfolio in future.

First Minister Paul Givan, of the DUP, said Northern Ireland’s parties must “unite” and “put their best foot forward” to collectively oppose the proposed legislation.

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, strongly criticised the UK government’s action, saying it would be seen by victims as “a betrayal of trust which denies justice to them and to their loved ones”.

It was “disturbing”, the archbishop said, that “victims and survivors, those who have paid the highest price for the fragile peace we all enjoy today, once more feel marginalised and neglected”, and he asked for “prayers of comfort” for “victims suffering on all sides of the conflict” and “for truth and justice to prevail in the interest of the common good”.