North parties, Coveney meet Brandon Lewis over Troubles amnesty plan

Virtual meeting comes as UK seeks to bar prosecutions for Troubles-related offences

The five parties in Stormont will hold a virtual meeting today with Northen Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney to discuss the UK government’s proposal of ending Troubles prosecutions.  Photograph: iStock

The five parties in Stormont will hold a virtual meeting today with Northen Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney to discuss the UK government’s proposal of ending Troubles prosecutions. Photograph: iStock

 

The leaders of the North’s five main political parties and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney have met Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis virtually over the UK government’s plans to introduce a statute of limitations barring prosecutions for Troubles-related offences.

The North’s Assembly is to be recalled from summer recess on Tuesday to discuss the plans, which are opposed by the parties and victims groups in the North.

Assembly members will debate a motion 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 in Dublin following his meeting with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, the Taoiseach, Micheal Martin, said “unilateralism” does not work when implementing the terms of the Belfast Agreement.

“There has to be a consensus-based approach and all of the parties in Northern Ireland are united in their opposition to the decision that has been taken,” he said.

“I think the British government need to reflect on that and on the process. There has to be engagement, and there has to be consensus building.

“We agreed a process to deal with this, and it’s through that process that

very sensitive issues such as this should be resolved,” he said.

The Taoiseach said what should be foremost in minds at all times “must be the victims and their families”.

“They feel betrayed, and they feel let down, and we have to prioritise the families and victims of so many atrocities during that period of our history on this island, irrespective of one’s community,” Mr Martin said.

“It’s very clear people want those that murdered their loved ones . . . should be fully accountable to the justice system, fully acknowledging the challenges around that,” the Taoiseach said.

Every party in the North has rejected the proposal for amnesty with Mr Coveney warning the plan would breach its international obligations.

The proposals would also undoubtedly be tested in the courts and add “years of uncertainty and misery for families with no benefit”, he said.

As the SDLP sought a recall of the Northern Ireland assembly, Mr Coveney wrote in the Guardian of the broader consequences of Britain’s “unilateral approach” after he and Mr Lewis, agreed last month to begin a process of engagement with the Stormont parties on legacy issues.

“In our view, this would be politically and legally unsustainable, and would damage relationships and trust critical to the protection of the achievements of the peace process,” Mr Coveney wrote of the UK government’s move.

Proposals

DUP leader 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”.

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

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.”

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

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

The British government proposals had referred to a decreasing likelihood of successful prosecutions.

A “command paper” on the proposals said the UK government was committed to talks with the Irish government, Northern Ireland’s parties, victims and all who were most directly affected by the Troubles.

It added: “The shared objective of this engagement is to deal with these issues comprehensively and fairly, and in a way that supports information recovery and reconciliation, complies fully with international human rights obligations, and that responds to the needs of victims, survivors and society as a whole.”

In place of criminal and civil prosecutions, the plans envisage the establishment of a new independent body, likened to South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission and intended to help families find the truth about what happened to their loved ones.

The Information Recovery Body would have “full access” to information from state agencies and could take statements from individuals, according to a UK government document. – Additional reporting from Guardian