Politicians north and south condemn Troubles ‘amnesty’ plan

Politicians on both sides of the Irish border have condemned a reported move to prevent future prosecutions over Troubles crimes.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 8:18 am

The UK Government is set to introduce a statute of limitations to stop people being charged over incidents that occurred before the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, according to reports in the Times and Daily Telegraph.

Many victims of the Troubles are vehemently opposed to any statute of limitations, which they characterise as an amnesty that will thwart their chances of justice.

The bar on prosecutions would apply across the board, including former security force members and paramilitaries, but an exemption would still enable war crimes, such as torture, to be prosecuted, according to the papers.

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Westminster

The reported move, some detail of which could be announced in next week’s Queen’s Speech, would signal the scrapping of a key mechanism agreed by the UK and Irish Governments and main Northern Ireland parties in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.

The Stormont House proposals included a new independent investigation unit to re-examine all unsolved killings.

Responding to the development, Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill tweeted: “Reports that British government are to legislate for an amnesty for their state forces is another slap in the face to victims.

“Another cynical move that will put British forces beyond the law. This is legal protection for those involved in state murder. This is not acceptable.”

Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney, who met Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis in Dublin on Wednesday, also expressed concern.

It is understood that, while legacy was discussed at the meeting, the potential of a statute of limitations being introduced in the Queen’s Speech was not raised.

Ministers in Dublin are said to be dismayed by the reports.

A spokesman for Mr Coveney said: “The Irish Government discussed with our UK colleagues the commitments of the Stormont House Agreement and strongly advised against any unilateral action on such sensitive issues.

“We reiterated that only through a collective approach can we deal with these issues comprehensively and fairly in a way that responds to the needs of victims, survivors and society as a whole. Victims and their families are the only priority.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood tweeted: “If true, this will be the biggest betrayal of victims by the British government & will put a huge obstacle in the way of true reconciliation. This is the most unprincipled & cynical British government in many years and that’s saying something. An absolute disgrace. Shame on them.”

Alliance Party leader and Stormont Justice Minister Naomi Long tweeted: “This kind of briefing, before any meaningful engagement with victims’ families, typifies the contempt with which Govt are treating victims.

“I believe that they deserve justice where that is possible: however, at the very least, they deserve not to learn of Govt plans on Twitter.”

Last March, Mr Lewis announced an intention to unilaterally move away from the Stormont House deal.

He said only Troubles killings where compelling new evidence had emerged would receive a full police reinvestigation.

He added that most unsolved cases would be closed and a new law would prevent them being reopened.

On Tuesday, the trial of two former paratroopers accused of the murder of Official IRA commander Joe McCann in 1972 collapsed due to legal issues related to the admissibility of statements and interviews given by the ex-soldiers.