Bereaved relative: Any Troubles amnesty would be ‘morally reprehensible’

The prospect of a Troubles amnesty halting current prosecutions, as well as being extended to cover terror atrocities in Great Britain, has angered a number of families bereaved by the IRA.

Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 7:13 am
Julie Hambleton and other Birmingham pub bombings campaigners from the Justice4the21 group. Photo: Richard Vernalls/PA Wire

Quoting government sources, both the Times and the Telegraph newspapers last week reported that new legislation, to be announced on Tuesday in the Queen’s Speech, would halt the prosecution of soldiers involved in a number of fatal shootings.

However, it is generally accepted that any form of amnesty would also have to apply to former paramilitaries.

While some military veterans, victims and politicians are in favour of an all-encompassing amnesty to “draw a line” under the past, news of the government’s proposals provoked a widespread backlash across the political spectrum.

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Several victims’ groups and campaigners have also expressed their disgust that any lingering hope of a prosecution could be extinguished.

Julie Hambleton, whose 18-year-old sister Maxine died in the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, said it would be a “disgrace” if the government pressed ahead with any form of amnesty.

“What deluded individuals can possibly consider that such an idea is morally, ethically or legally acceptable? It is reprehensible. I am disgusted and sickened,” she said.

“If they allow this amnesty to go ahead, they will be allowing mass murderers, who believed that it was, in their eyes, their right to go out and extinguish the lives of innocent people to make a political point,” Ms Hambleton told the News Letter.

She also said that although she believes the military should be investigated where actions cannot be justified, that scrutiny should include “those who gave the orders,”.

Ms Hambleton said: “If someone went above and beyond what the should have done in their role, then they should face the extent of the law or the military courts, however, in my humble opinion, the soldiers facing prosecution are just scapegoats.”

The government has not included any reference to the amnesty proposals in a preview of the Queen’s Speech published online at the weekend, however, following a meeting with NI Secretary Brandon Lewis, Alliance leader Naomi Long said she believed the press reports of a de facto amnesty “accurately reflected the Government’s abandonment of the Stormont House Agreement”,

Ms Long said the Stormont House arrangements would prevent anyone escaping justice on the whims of government, and added: “Furthermore, in order to deliver protection for military personnel, the government is willing to make equivalence between soldiers and terrorists, neither of which would be held to account for their actions.

“That is not just offensive to victims, but also to the all those who served in the security forces with dignity and honour, and crucially, within the law.”

Speaking ahead of a meeting with Brandon Lewis on Monday, Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill described the prospect of an amnesty as “another cynical act of bad faith”.

She said: “This would be a clear breach from the British government’s commitments to victims of the conflict in the Stormont House and New Decade New Approach agreements.

“At its core this is about the British state closing down any prospect of a meaningful investigation of its role in the conflict.

“It will simply continue the virtual impunity that has persisted for decades and amount to a full frontal assault on the rule of law.”

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Alistair Bushe