SECRETARY of State Shaun Woodward's department told the Government that it should not support Ulster victims' fight for compensation from Libya despite the Secretary of State's responsibility to represent Northern Ireland's interests to the Cabinet.
Foreign Office files released to the News Letter under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that both the Foreign Office and Mr Woodward's department, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), decided that the Government should not even diplomatically ask Libya to compensate its UK victims, the majority of whom are from the Province.
Responding to a parliamentary question in 2007 by Ulster Unionist peer Lord Laird, a senior Foreign Office official inadvertently revealed that it was the NIO, along with the Foreign Office, which "concluded that it would not be appropriate for the Government to become involved in this case nor to exert any diplomatic pressure on the Libyan government".
The head of the Foreign Office's Arab/Israel and North Africa Group, whose name, and that of the individual who approved the answer, has been removed from the document, answered the question although the answer was attributed to Lord Malloch-Brown, the Minister of State in the Foreign Office with responsibility for Africa.
The curt answer itself is only a sentence: "The Government is aware of a private civil lawsuit against the government of Libya before the US courts and US law, but does not consider that it would be appropriate to intervene in it."
However, included in the two-page document are background notes on why the Foreign Office refused to support the victims' case against Libya and it is in those notes, never intended to be made public, that the NIO's involvement is revealed.
The draft answer also reveals that the Foreign Office considered the background of the peer who asked the question before deciding how to reply.
The internal document said: "We are not aware of any specific interest of Lord Laird (who has a unionist background) other than his active interest in NI issues."
When asked for Secretary of State Shaun Woodward's view on the IRA victims' compensation case against Libya, an NIO spokeswoman told the News Letter: "The particular matter of facilitating discussions between the victims' families and their representatives and the Libyan authorities has been, and continues to be, handled by the Foreign Office."
Lord Laird said the document revealed that the NIO was "again treating the citizens of Northern Ireland with a lack of equality" by not supporting those murdered and maimed by republican terrorists.
The peer, who will travel to Libya with the delegation of IRA victims and politicians who are going to Tripoli in a fortnight to press for compensation, added: "I will raise that on the floor of the House in the Queen's Speech – it's one of the topics that I will want detailed explanations of."
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who has long been involved in the campaign for compensation, said he was "disappointed but not surprised" that the NIO had been intervening to stifle victims' attempts for Government support.
“It saddens me that ministers who have first-hand knowledge of victims in Northern Ireland would not see the rightness of raising their case for compensation with the Libyan government,” he said.
“One of the main proponents of our case is the former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Sir Ken Bloomfield, whose work is to be admired in contrast to serving ministers who seem not to want to stand up for the rights of victims in terms of a mistaken fear that it would rock the boat.”
Conservative shadow secretary of state Owen Paterson was unable to be contacted yesterday but shadow foreign secretary William Hague said: “I think it is time he [Gordon Brown] changed his position that it’s not appropriate for the British Government to raise this directly with the Libyan government.”