One of the most abject failures of British foreign policy in recent years has been the failure to chase compensation for IRA-Libyan victims.
It seems this was not merely an oversight, but a policy partly aimed at appeasing Sinn Fein (agitating for damages by its very nature would remind people of indiscriminate IRA violence in which civilians died) and mainly aimed at currying favour with Colonel Gaddafi.
In a debate at Westminster Hall yesterday, the Labour MP for Poplar and Canning Town Jim Fitzpatrick raised the issue of compensation for victims of the 1996 Docklands bomb, which happened within his constituency. Northern Ireland MPs, such as the DUP’s Nigel Dodds and the UUP’s Danny Kinahan, were present to encourage him on behalf of other victims of IRA Semtex, who would also benefit from compensation.
In an impressive speech, Mr Fitzpatrick appeared to concede that the Blair-Brown Labour government, in which he was for a time a minister, had been more interested in the “glory” of bringing Libya in from the cold than in justice.
He cited the lawyer Jason McCue, representing victims, who had told the Northern Ireland select committee: “Victims are frontline troops in the war on terror. We have a duty of care to them and yet we do not seem to value them in our society like others do, like the French or Americans do.”
There are three ways of securing compensation. Britain could have joined America in a class action (but did not). It could use interest from £9 billion of frozen assets in the UK, or it could get the current Libyan regime to pay. As Mr Fitzpatrick said, victims don’t care which it is.
The current government is not to blame for the past failures but rectifying it must become their priority.
We cannot have IRA victims of terror – and let us all be clear that it was terrorism – kept in the background, as they were to sanitise Gaddafi and as they have more recently been to sanitise Sinn Fein.