Group of prominent Americans condemn British government’s Northern Ireland ‘legacy’ proposals

Biden administration urged to use all diplomatic channels to oppose measures

The British Government is for all intents and purposes turnings its back on victims and survivors of the Troubles in Northern Ireland with its new legislation on legacy issues, a group of prominent Americans has said.

The ad hoc committee to protect the Good Friday agreement also argued that the new “legacy and reconciliation bill” put forward by the Government of Boris Johnson “violates both the Good Friday agreement and international law, in this case the European Convention on Human Rights, and would undermine the peace process in Northern Ireland.

In a letter to the US secretary of state Anthony Blinken the group urged the Biden administration “to use all possible diplomatic channels necessary to oppose this potential violation of the Good Friday agreement without delay”.

The group said the British Government proposals would lead to “years of protracted litigation” if it came into force.

The letter was signed by 40 Americans who have been involved in supporting the Good Friday agreement including five former ambassadors and an envoy to Northern Ireland.

Former congressman James Walsh, a co-chairman of the ad hoc committee said: “In the last three years our committee has held countless meetings with representatives of the British Government to express our concerns about the protecting the Good Friday agreement and to support the victims and survivors in their quest for truth and justice. This proposed legacy legislation unfortunately is part of a pattern of delay and obstruction that dates back 50 years to the infamous Lord Wiggery report regarding Bloody Sunday which faulted victims and survivors.”

“The fact that all the political parties in Northern Ireland are united in opposition to the legislation is telling. Of greater concern is the callous disregard of the victims and survivors who have spent decades seeking truth and justice. We are now approaching the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and we find it very disturbing that the UK Government is proceeding unilaterally in contrast to the joint actions of the British and Irish governments that have been central to the success of the Good Friday agreement.”

British assurance

The letter says the group had been assured by the British authorities that a revised legacy proposal would be compliant with both the spirit and core tenets of the Good Friday agreement and incorporate human rights standards as well as reflect the concerns of victims and survivors.

“The pending Bill does none of these things. Along with Independent legal experts in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, we have concluded that the proposed legislation ignores the expressed concerns of the people of Northern Ireland across community and party lines and violates the Good Friday agreement and human rights standards under UK and international law that the agreement incorporated. Litigation over these deficiencies is certain to lead to years of further delay in addressing Northern Ireland legacy issues.”

It said there were well over 1,000 civil cases still in the courts “and the recent Ballymurphy inquest, which declared all ten victim’s innocent, suggests that truth and justice can still be secured”.

The letter argued that the proposed legislation violated the Good Friday agreement.

It said, if enacted, the legislation would if enacted, “guarantee years of protracted litigations, first in UK courts, and then at the European Court of Human Rights”.

“In this light, there can be no more effective way to undermine peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland with regard to legacy, than to enact this proposal. We understand that the pending Bill is being fast tracked through parliament. We therefore respectfully call upon you to use all possible diplomatic channels necessary to oppose this potential violation of the Good Friday agreement without delay.”

Former congressman Bruce Morrison, who is also a co-chair of the Ad hoc committee said it had last year written to the British Government outlining its concerns about its proposals on legacy issues.

“We find it incredibly unfortunate that at this juncture nothing has changed,” he said.