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EDITORIAL: From All Sides

The opposition to the British government's determination to see full passage and implementation of the legacy bill for Northern Ireland.

Last week two members of Congress, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, penned a letter to Northern Ireland Secretary of State Richard Heaton-Harris expressing their concern over the bill.

Congressman William Keating, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Europe, and Brian Fitzpatrick, Chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Subcommittee on National Intelligence, said they were "gravely concerned" by the proposed Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.

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"We have heard from parties across communities in Northern Ireland that this bill would deny justice to victims of the Troubles and conceal the truth of the past.

"As such, we are disappointed by the decision to appoint a Chief Commissioner to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), even before the Legacy and Reconciliation Bill has been enacted into UK law. We believe such an appointment is premature, unproductive, and threatens the fragile peace established by the Good Friday Agreement." 

The two congressmen, who reflect the broad feeling in each of their respective parties when it comes to Northern Ireland, urged the British government to "refrain from actions, such as this, that threaten cross-community support for the Good Friday Agreement."

Separately, but by no means alone in Northern Ireland, the Ballymurphy Massacre Families group penned their own open letter to Sir Declan Morgan, Chief Commissioner-designate of the ICRIR.

The open letter stated in part: "Thank you for your letter of 23rd May 2023 requesting an opportunity to meet with the Ballymurphy Massacre Families. We would like to state from the outset that we are strongly opposed to the Conservative Party's Legacy Bill or 'Bill of Shame.' 

"The Ballymurphy Massacre families and other victims have campaigned vigorously in opposition to this Bill. We maximised the support of all victim’s groups and all political parties in Ireland, North and South. 

"With the exception of the Conservative Party all other political parties in both houses at Westminster have met with cross community victim’s representatives and pledged their support in opposition of this Bill. Opposition to this bill also comes from all NGOs, Amnesty international, US administration and the European Union and many more human rights organisations. 

"Those who suffered the most, victims and survivors of the conflict, should be at the centre of any legislation dealing with the past. This bill runs roughshod over them and offers no real way forward.

"In your letter you speak of a 'new approach, where the past and current processes aren’t working.'  We disagree totally with your assertion, our inquest which you facilitated is proof that the existing processes do work and will work for those families still awaiting inquests.

"You meeting victims’ families in Belfast as the Lord Chief Justice and your five-year plan on inquests strengthened our confidence in the justice system. For the first time we believed justice can be served and the needs of victims can be addressed.

"We are very surprised and deeply disappointed that you have taken this position given your sterling work in recommending mechanisms for dealing with legacy issues included in your 5-year plan. This bill flies in the face of that plan and will deny others the opportunity our families were given. It is also surprising to us that you agreed to take up your post before it has even been legislated for.

"For many years families had no faith in the courts or the legal system but in 2011 we took the legal route searching for truth and justice, although we were apprehensive we carried on and started to see some good decisions coming from the courts. 

"We feel badly let down that a figurehead like yourself, who we have always trusted, who has championed victims’ rights through the courts, should take such a position of denying legal rights, whether its inquests, civil or criminal avenues for victims’ families to pursue. 

"We as victims believed the Stormont House agreement and the mechanisms therein for dealing with our past is the way forward for most if not all victims. We would rather remember you for your previous good work and that to be your legacy, than to be remembered as the head of a British Government department that denies truth and justice.

"There is nothing right or honourable about denying truth and justice to victims and their families we therefore ask you to do the right thing and resign now."

The Ballymurphy Families, as are so many other groups, parties and individuals, are now waiting for a meaningful response