The government’s controversial proposals to deal with the legacy of the Troubles, which aim to draw a line under the conflict, will see immunity from prosecution for Troubles-era crimes offered to some who come forward and co-operate.
The proposals, which would see the establishment of an ‘Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery’ and immunity offered to those deemed to have co-operated with it, have been criticised from both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland, and by various organisations representing victims of the conflict.
The Labour Party, meanwhile, has said the bill as introduced by the government would offer what it described as an “amnesty for rapists” by failing to exclude sex offences from the legislation.
The shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Labour MP Peter Kyle, said on Thursday he has now put forward an amendment to close a “loophole” in the bill that Labour says would not prohibit anyone who has committed or covered up acts of sexual violence as part of the conflict from seeking immunity.
The move has been welcomed by Ms Cahill, a former Irish Senator whose case was referenced directly in Parliament by Mr Kyle last month when the bill underwent its second reading.
Ms Cahill has now urged the Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to apologise for what she described as his dismissal of the issues raised by Mr Kyle.
In 2010 Ms Cahill went public to say that she had been raped by an IRA member as a teenager and had been forced to confront him in a kangaroo court arranged by the paramilitary organisation.
A 2014 prosecution against the alleged rapist collapsed and in 2015, the former director of public prosecutions for England and Wales Sir Keir Starmer – now the leader of the Labour Party – found in a review of the Public Prosecution Service’s handling of the case that it had failed Ms Cahill and two other victims.
Mr Kyle said: “It is shocking that the Conservatives’ legislation currently allows rapists to gain immunity from prosecution. Our amendment would close this loophole to ensure that the law doesn’t hinder justice for victims of sexual offences.”
Ms Cahill welcomed the move, saying: “The Labour Party and Northern Ireland parties have recognised, unlike the Conservatives and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), that this bill as it stands would allow perpetrators who committed Troubles-related sexual offences causing serious harm to seek immunity.
“The Conservative ministers, including Conor Burns and Brandon Lewis, spoke on record in the House of Commons telling the public something different.”
She also moved to thank DUP members who have indicated their support for the Labour amendment.
She added: “They [Mr Burns and Mr Lewis] should correct the record of the House and the NIO should apologise to all conflict-related sexual abuse victims.”