Government ‘does U-turn on Libyan compensation’

Muammar Gaddafi
Muammar Gaddafi

An Ulster peer has written to the Prime Minister over an apparent policy U-turn by the Government over Libyan compensation for IRA victims.

Lord Empey wrote to David Cameron after a minister told him that the Government is not involved in any negotiations with the Libyan government on securing payments for those who suffered as a result of Semtex gifted to the IRA by Colonel Gaddafi.

On Saturday, the News Letter published an article from Aileen Quinton, whose mother was murdered by the IRA in the 1987 Enniskillen bomb.

Ms Quinton said she was “appalled” that the Government had not told Gaddafi’s victims in Enniskillen of a visit by the new Libyan Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, to the town last year – but had instead introduced him to a former IRA commander, Martin McGuinness.

As Ulster Unionist leader in 2010, Lord Empey jointly fought a General Election with Mr Cameron in which the Tories promised that, if they came to power, they would reverse Labour’s neutrality on the issue.

The News Letter has seen a November 2011 letter from the Prime Minister to Lord Empey in which Mr Cameron emphatically sided with the victims’ action: “As I told the House of Commons on 5 September, the issue of compensation for UK victims of IRA terrorism will be an important priority for a revitalised relationship between Britain and the new Libyan authorities.

“I have raised this with NTC [National Transitional Council] chairman Jalil and the new Prime Minister, al-Kib.”

The Prime Minister added that he had asked the Foreign Office to “prepare detailed plans for a sustainable and effective partnership with the new Libyan government, which will provide a forum to address all outstanding legacy issues dating from the Gaddafi period and the many victims affected by his actions.

“Our objective is a comprehensive resolution of these legacy issues.”

Mr Cameron also said: “I am absolutely clear that cooperation on these issues must not be subordinate to other security or commercial interests, or put onto the back burner, and I agree with your instinct that we should use our influence to move these issues to a conclusion.

“I have been very clear about this with the new Libyan leaders in my recent meetings and conversations with them, and I have been encouraged by their readiness to acknowledge that these are issues that must be addressed.”

However, a Parliamentary answer from Baroness Warsi three weeks ago stated that “the Government is not involved in any negotiations with the Libyan government on securing compensation payments ... the Government considers individual compensation claims that are being pursued to be a private matter and best pursued directly with the Libyan government”.

Lord Empey said he was concerned by that response. He said that Baroness Warsi’s answer showed there had been “a complete change of policy compared to the reply I got from the Prime Minister on 15 November 2011 and subsequent letters in 2012”.

He added: “This is totally unsatisfactory. I will be taking this up in Parliament either by further questions, letters or directly with ministers.”