Troubles legacy legislation delayed until after Assembly election claim

New legislation that would bring an end to Troubles-related prosecutions has been further delayed and will not now be tabled before the summer, a media report has suggested.

Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 4:45 pm

It was expected that the Legacy Bill would have been brought forward before Christmas, with the aim of completing its passage through Parliament before the NI Assembly elections in early May this year.

However, it has now been reported that concerns within government – including those raised by Defence Minister Ben Wallace – have led to further efforts to fine tune its provisions.

The proposals put forward by NI Secretary Brandon Lewis include a ‘statute of limitations’ which has been widely interpreted as an effective amnesty for terrorists, who would benefit from any attempt to “draw a line” under the prosecutions of former members of the security forces.

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The provisions of the bill will also end all legacy inquests and Troubles-related civil actions. MPs are due to raise the issue in Parliament on Thursday.

DUP MP Gavin Robinson is opposed to the statute of limitations.

He said: “Clearly the proposals don’t have any support in Northern Ireland, and the government has never satisfactorily grasped the opportunity to separate out those who were serving the state, and protecting us all, and those who were trying to destroy the state.”

Mr Robinson, who sits on the Defence Committee at Westminster, added: “The longer time goes on the harder it is to get a conviction, but there are far too many victims out there who still have a quest for justice to turn around and say ‘I’m sorry but you’re not entitled,’ and far too many grieving parents and bereaved families to do that.”

The website has this week reported a government source as saying they need more time to “get it right,” and that the legislation might not make it onto the statute books until late spring or early summer.

Conservative MP and ex-minister Johnny Mercer is an outspoken critic of the government’s approach to legacy issues.

Mr Mercer told the same news outlet that Brandon Lewis was “arrogant” to claim that there are no alternatives to the legacy proposals being set out by the government.

“Even a cursory glance would show you there are many alternatives to his approach. He may choose not to listen – that is his prerogative, but that’s a different thing from saying there are no alternatives,” Mr Mercer said.

While many victims’ groups and military veterans based in Northern Ireland are opposed to the statute of limitations being proposed, the large Northern Ireland Veterans Movement umbrella grouping has given a guarded welcome to the statutory protection of ex-soldiers – as “the simple and painful truth is that no terrorist will ever be convicted”.

A NIVM spokesman previously told the News Letter: “The NIVM will scrutinize every detail of the proposed bill to ensure that the legislation truly offers the protection for which veterans have been campaigning.”

An Northern Ireland Office spokesperson said: “The government is absolutely committed to addressing legacy issues comprehensively and fairly.

“This will include measures that focus on information recovery, so that families can know what happened to their loved ones, and which promote reconciliation, so all communities in Northern Ireland can move forward.

“The government remains committed to introducing legislation as soon as possible.”

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