Victims of Libya-sponsored IRA terrorism were yesterday shocked to find the country has £9.5bn of frozen assets in the UK - and that new legal grounds may have appeared to access them for compensation.
The battle for compensation for the victims of IRA terrorism sponsored by former Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi continued yesterday with the debate in Westminster Hall, secured by the Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, Jim Fitzpatrick.
The IRA Canary Wharf bomb in 1996 took place in his constituency and he is campaigning for financial compensation for many of them still suffering horrendous injuries,
Also present during the debate were Tom Elliott MP, Nigel Dodds MP, Lord Empey and Docklands victims’ association spokesman Jonathan Ganesh.
Mr Fitzpatrick said three options for compensation had been feasible: a class action through the US against Libya, which had been successful in 2008 for US citizens caught up in Libyan-sponsored terrorism in the UK; using Gaddafi family assets frozen in the UK; or, lastly, directly from the Libyan government.
He said IRA victims had been sickened by recent compensation of £1.6m to an IRA gang.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is currently holding an inquiry into Libyan compensation for IRA victims, and chairman Laurence Robertson said that both “Tony Blair and Gordon Brown seem reluctant to give evidence on this point”.
As a result, the committee may be forced to go to the US to investigate exactly why UK citizens were barred from the US class action against Libya in 2008.
UK victims believe the UK government was to blame, but it claims such a move was not possible under international law.
There has been much tokenism, he said, but victims want results.
Treasury Minister Damien Hinds said £9.5bn of Gaddafi family assets in the UK had been frozen after 2011 by the UN and EU.
Ulster-born Labour MP Kate Hoey pressed him on why they could not be used for victims. He said there were narrow grounds on which this could be considered, including a judicial order or humanitarian grounds, and that such a move may need UN approval in favour of IRA victims across the UK.
“The legal framework does not allow the Government to use these funds as we wish,” he said.
He added that one reason compensation was not achieved in 2008 was because “Libya considered the matter to be closed”.
Today, the UK Government is willing to facilitate direct talks on the matter between the emerging Libyan government and IRA victims, he said.
He did not say the Government would campaign on behalf of victims.
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson asked if the UK Government had previously lobbied at EU or UN level in favour of accessing Gaddafi assets in the UK, but Mr Hinds said he did not know and would have to come back with an answer.
UUP peer Lord Empey said afterwards it was “a shock” to many to find out there was over £9.5bn of frozen Gaddafi family assets held in London.
Many felt that victims’ humanitarian circumstances would warrant “a new approach” by the Government to both the UN and the EU to use the assets for their compensation, he added.