The House of Commons will have a full debate about securing compensation for victims of Libya-sponsored IRA terrorism in the new year, Lord Empey has said.
The UUP peer was speaking after last week successfully pushing a bill on the matter through the House of Lords.
His bill aims to give the Government a licence to liquidate some of the £9.5 billion of Libyan assets frozen in the UK, in order to compensate IRA victims in the UK.
His bill had the formal support of the Labour Party, he said, which means it will likely have support of the Lib Dems in the House of Commons. He also expects significant support among Conservative MPs.
“However, we believe the Government will opt to try and suffocate it when it comes to the House of Commons,” he said.
Andrew Rosindell MP introduced a bill of the same title recently and it is guaranteed a second reading in Parliament.
“Our objective all along is to have a full-scale debate in the House of Commons and we are certainly going to achieve that. In the new year there will definitely be a second reading debate.
“We intend to ensure that the needs of the people we represent are not forgotten.”
There are a range of possible models to secure compensation and the bill is a vehicle to force the debate, he said.
The Government argues that it is not legally possible to tap into Libyan assets in the UK. But there is no evidence right up until the present, said Lord Empey, that the Government has approached the EU or UN to ask about using legal exemptions to do so.
He added: “The British Government is helping people take individual cases against Libya. We totally disagree with that. This should always have been a government to government issue. To leave an issue of such significance to private individuals is absolutely ridiculous.”
Victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer applauded Lord Empey’s success.
Mr Frazer first thought of pursuing Libya for compensation in 2002, he said, when he made contact with lawyer Jason McCue, who was defending the Sunday Times in a libel action against south Armagh republican Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy.
Mr McCue would later go on to represent the Omagh bomb families in a landmark civil action.
“We also travelled to the US to meet the legal team representing US victims of Gadaffi-sponsored terrorism. The US did a deal with the UK government to cut us out of this settlement. US senators we met on that trip told us it was not them but our own government who had blocked us.
“But we believe this bill will be a success and we hope to travel to Libya in the new year to discuss a settlement.”
Lawyer Matt Jury, who is representing the IRA victims, noted that Libya has set a precedent for compensating UK IRA victims when it paid “tens of millions” to US victims of the IRA. The UK Government says the bill would violate Libya’s human rights, he says, “but what about the rights of the thousands of victims of IRA terrorism for which the Gaddafi regime was directly responsible?”