UK rejects fund for victims of Libyan-backed IRA attacks
British government says compensation claims from victims will remain as ‘private matters’
The Cenotaph at Enniskillen in 1987 with the devastated community centre in the background after it was hit by an IRA bomb. Photograph: PA
The UK government has said it will not establish a compensation fund for victims of IRA attacks using Libyan explosives, despite calls from MPs for payment to victims before time runs out.
A report from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in May 2017 called on the UK government to create a victim’s compensation fund by the end of the year after “two decades of failure” to seek money from Libya. Committee MPs said opening a compensation fund now would allow the government to calculate how much money it should claim from the North African country.
However, in its response to the committee’s report, the UK government said on Friday that the establishment of a fund, while simultaneously negotiating with the Libyan authorities, was “not a viable option”.
The committee wrote last May that there was “no doubt the weapons, funding, training and explosives” that Libyan leader Muammar Gadafy provided to the provisional IRA over 25 years both “extended and exacerbated the Northern Ireland Troubles, and caused enormous human suffering”.
Victims of IRA attacks using Libyan Semtex, a plastic explosive, have been calling for years for UK government support in their campaign for compensation from the Libyan government. Bombings using Gadafy-sponsored weaponry included the Harrods department store in 1983; an Enniskillen Remembrance Day ceremony blast in 1987; Warrington in 1993 and the financial heartland at the London Docklands in 1996.
Unlike other countries that have sought compensation from the Libyan government for its role in supporting overseas terror organisations, the UK government left it up to victims to secure compensation. It said the Foreign and Commonwealth office would provide support to victims, their representatives and campaign groups trying to engage with Libyan authorities “where it has been requested and is appropriate” but that compensation claims would still be considered as “private matters”.
Responding to the committee’s claim that former prime minister Tony Blair’s Labour administration missed a “vital opportunity” to secure payouts to victims in the early 2000s, the government said the focus at that time was ending Libya’s supply of weapons to the IRA and “preventing further suffering and attacks”.
While France, Germany and the US negotiated multimillion-pound settlements with Gadafy for citizens impacted by Libyan-directed terrorism, the committee criticised the former Labour government for failing to pursue compensation bilaterally with Libya. It said the exclusion of UK victims from the US-Libya claims settlement agreement in 2008 was “another missed opportunity”.
The UK government said it was unable to include UK victims in the US-Libya claims negotiations for “legal reasons”, adding that neither international nor US law would allow the US to advocate for claims from foreign nationals. It refused to comment on whether Mr Blair had the ability and influence after leaving office to make a difference to the outcome of the US-Libya Claims Settlement Agreement in 2008.
Last May’s report found that almost £9.5 billion (€11.21 billion) of frozen assets in the UK from the Gadafy regime could provide “leverage” in negotiations on a compensation deal. However, the government said no legal basis would allow a licence to be issued to release the frozen funds for compensation and that it was “not a feasible option”.
If the coalition government had taken up the issue of compensation following the 2011 fall of Gadafy, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee believe there would have been a strong chance of reaching an agreement with the Libyan authorities. However, the government said it would not have been possible to secure a formal or legally binding agreement with Libya’s National Transitional Council which did not have the full authority to make long-term decisions.
While the UK government will continue to provide political and practical support to Libya in the coming years it said it would not be in the national interest to make this support conditional on a resolution over victim compensation. “Attempting to do so would be unproductive and may threaten our overall bilateral relationship and other key national security objectives,” it said.