North Secretary of State Brandon Lewis. RollingNews.ie photo.
By Irish Echo Staff
There has been a strong pushback in Ireland against plans announced by the British government to block any and all future investigations into killings during the troubles, both by paramilitaries and the security forces.
According to an Irish Times report the PSNI and Northern Ireland’s police ombudsman would be barred by law from investigating Troubles-related incidents under the British government proposal announced on Wednesday - a move that would create an effective amnesty for security forces and paramilitaries.
The plan would end all judicial activity relating to the Troubles, including inquests and civil actions as well as criminal cases, the Times report stated.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin described the move as “wrong for many reasons."
Martin said he had repeatedly stated “I don’t believe in a general amnesty for those who committed murder, whether they were state actors or involved in terrorist or illegal organisations. I just don’t believe in that.”
And he added: "The British government may be setting out its position but our position as an Irish Government, shared with all of the political parties in the North and all of the victims’ groups, remains consistent with that of the Stormont House Agreement."
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis had earlier Wednesday told MPs that the British government acknowledged that creating a statute of limitations would be “extremely difficult” for some victims’ families to accept.
“However, it is increasingly clear to us that the ongoing retributive criminal justice processes are - far from helping - impeding the successful delivery of information recovery, mediation and reconciliation that could provide a sense of restorative justice for many more families than is currently the case,” he said.
“This government is committed to doing all in its power to ensure that families from across the United Kingdom do not continue to be let down by a process which leads only to pain, suffering and disappointment for the vast majority.”
The Times recounted that Mr. Lewis had agreed last month at a meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Council to engage with parties in Northern Ireland, victims’ families and the Irish government before bringing forward legislation on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles. He told the House of Commons that he would introduce legislation later this year.
Reaction in the North was negative, even across the party divide.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said the British government’s proposals would be rejected by everyone in Northern Ireland who stands for justice and the rule of law.
“The past is complex and we have always believed that any process to deal with the legacy of our troubled past should be victim-centered. Victims will see these proposals as perpetrator-focused rather than victim-focused and an insult to both the memory of those innocent victims who lost their lives during our Troubles and their families,” Donaldson said.
Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister in the North, Michelle O’Neill, said it was clear the British government was intent on hiding its role in the conflict and putting its forces beyond the law.
O'Neill said: "Once again the British government has shown its complete disregard for the people of the north, for victims of the conflict, for our peace process and for its agreements.
“Families who have campaigned with dignity and determination have been left angered and hurt by this further attempt by the British government to cover up the truth and put its forces beyond the law.
"Some of these families have been fighting for truth for five decades. They have been forced to take to the streets and to go to the courts in an attempt to find out the truth about the deaths of their loved ones.
“It’s clear that the British government’s objective is to end independent investigations, inquests, judicial reviews, civil cases and also prosecutions involving British soldiers already before the courts.
"Such unilateral proposals are a clear breach of the British government's Stormont House Agreement and their New Decade New Approach commitments. This unilateral approach is opposed by all five main political parties in the north and the Irish government.
"These proposals are about putting British state forces who killed Irish citizens beyond the law. It is further insult to grieving families.
"This is about the British government simply protecting their own state forces and the policy makers responsible for shoot to kill, state murder and collusion; facilitating impunity and blocking accountability.
"If the current legacy process is to deliver for victims, in a human rights compliant manner, there can be no amnesty or statute of limitation for British state forces or intention to interfere with due legal process in respect of legacy inquests, judicial reviews, civil cases or prosecution cases involving British soldiers already before the courts.
"We will continue to demand the implementation of the internationally agreed Stormont House Agreement and stand with the families in their search for truth and justice.”
Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, said he believed the proposed amnesty was “not a done deal." It was effectively the British government’s contribution to a process which it signed up to in 2014 committing to deal with issues of the past, Mr. Coveney said.
He said he would “approach these discussions and negotiations with an open mind and I hope we will be able to work with the British government who I hope will also have an open mind on how we come to a consensus, a way forward with victims and people of Northern Ireland as the centre and priority of what we’re trying to do.
“This cannot be driven by a political commitment to veterans or anything else for that matter,” Mr. Coveney told RTÉ Radio’s News at One.
John Teggart, spokesman for the Ballymurphy Massacre families said: “Once again legacy families are being traumatized. We see this as the British government’s cynical attempt to bring in an amnesty and a plan to bury its war crimes.
“The Ballymurphy Massacre inquest findings in May this year is the perfect example of why there should not be a statue of limitations. Justice Keegan confirmed what the Ballymurphy Massacre families always stated that all those who lost their lives in the Ballymurphy Massacre were ‘entirely innocent of any wrongdoing’ and ‘posed no threat.' This is a war crime and those responsible must be held to account.”
In Britain, and again according to the Irish Times report, relatives of the 1974 IRA Birmingham pub bombings in which 21 people were killed described the plan to end all prosecutions as “obscene."