Dublin needs to step up on legacy, says UUP leader Doug Beattie

Amid all of the focus on wrongdoing by the UK state, Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie has turned the spotlight on to the Dublin government — asking what exactly it plans to do to make good on its own Troubles failings.

Saturday, 17th July 2021, 9:31 am
Updated Saturday, 17th July 2021, 9:57 am
The Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie

Mr Beattie’s comments come as opposition to the UK government’s proposed amnesty continues to grow, with parties ranging from Sinn Fein to the TUV all voicing public opposition to it.

The Tory government in Westminster is widely believed to have drafted the blanket amnesty as a means of stopping prosecutions of former soldiers who stood charged with historic murders; something which had enraged many Conservative backbenchers.

As former PSNI counter-terror officer William Matchett told the News Letter earlier in the week, the amnesty means that as far as Boris Johnson is concerned, news headlines about that have been be “taken off the political table – and it confines all the fallout, once again, back here” in Northern Ireland.

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Mr Beattie said not only must the Westminster government re-instate “a criminal justice element” to its plans for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles, but that any such plan must also see Dublin co-operate in shedding light on past Irish misdeeds.

“The Irish government needs to do more than what they are doing now,” said Mr Beattie (left).

“It’s not good enough that the Irish government comes to the table with warm smiles, but little else. Where is their command paper and what are they going to do?

“We need to widen the focus, we need to widen the lens and we need to look at both governments and their part within what happened here in Northern Ireland and further afield.

“Until we do that we will always be failing our victims and survivors.”

Unionists have long complained about the past reluctance of the Irish state to deal with the fact its border territory was used as a staging post for republican bombings and shootings – and that, even when perpetrators were apprehended, they were not extradited.

Yesterday Mr Beattie also accused Sinn Fein of using the Party Leaders’ Forum as a “political prop”.

The forum is due to meet on Monday ahead of a recall of the Assembly on Tuesday to discuss the legacy proposals, which have also united victims groups in opposition.

However, Mr Beattie said he will not take part in any legacy discussions chaired by Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald.

Mr Beattie said his party is “committed to doing everything possible to ensure that innocent victims retain the right to pursue justice for their loved ones”.

“However, what I will not do in pursuit of that goal is give cover to Sinn Fein who are misrepresenting the role of the Party Leaders’ Forum as a political prop. I will not be attending discussions on legacy chaired by Sinn Fein.

“It was Mary Lou McDonald who said that the IRA campaign was justified, without a thought for the thousands of victims created by the IRA terror machine.

“As I said before, we need to widen the lens of discussions on legacy and that includes focusing in on the role of terrorist organisations, including the IRA, and those who supported them.”

A Sinn Fein spokesperson responded to Mr Beattie’s comments.

“The Party Leaders’ Forum meets monthly, and has done so routinely since it was established,” they said.

“The hosting and chairing rotates, and this month it is the turn of Sinn Fein. Mary Lou McDonald as President of Sinn Fein has notified the parties, invited issues for discussion on the agenda and she will chair the meeting.

“Sinn Fein have put legacy on the agenda given the huge hurt caused by the British Government to victims and survivors by their latest legacy proposals, which political leaders will want to discuss.”

Also yesterday, Northern Ireland’s political held “robust conversations” with Secretary of State Brandon Lewis over controversial government plans to ban prosecutions over Troubles-related offences.

The parties outlined their opposition to the proposals in a virtual meeting with Mr Lewis, which also included Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney.

The meeting came as it was confirmed the Northern Ireland Assembly will be recalled next week from its summer recess to discuss concerns over what politicians and victims have described as a “de facto amnesty” for Troubles crimes.

Mr Lewis said on Wednesday that he intends to introduce legislation to create a proposed statute of limitations which would end all prosecutions for incidents up to April 1998 and would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries.

The proposals, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson said would allow Northern Ireland to “draw a line under the Troubles”, would also end legacy inquests and any civil actions related to the Troubles.

Following the meeting on Friday, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “It was a fairly robust conversation. Each of us outlined our views on the way forward in relation to legacy.

“We recognise that these are very difficult and sensitive matters. This morning I have been meeting with some of the groups here representing innocent victims from across Northern Ireland.

“They are very concerned by the Government’s proposals for what they believe amounts to some form of amnesty.

“They believe passionately that the opportunity for victims and families to pursue justice should not be closed off and that view was replicated in the comments made by party leaders this morning.”

He added: “We want a process on legacy which includes an opportunity for those families and for those victims that want to take that route to pursue justice.

“It is not just about truth, it is not just about information recovery, it is about having the opportunity for individuals and families to pursue justice for their loved ones.”

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said her party would not “provide cover for anything” that amounts to an “amnesty” over Troubles prosecutions.

Mrs Long said: “Alliance was clear with the governments that we will continue to engage in the legacy process in order to find a solution. But that solution needs to be based on the rule of law and due process. I was clear in the meeting this process has to be centred on victims, who have been re-traumatised this week thanks to the actions of the UK government.

“Any suggestion their right to access justice has been denied will hurt them further.”

Ulster Unionist leader Mr Beattie said the meeting “did not provide any solutions for innocent victims”.

Mr Beattie said: “I made clear at the meeting that we would not be supporting a statute of limitations, which has always been our consistent position because it was always going to inevitably lead to an amnesty for terrorists.

“The UK Government must widen their proposals to incorporate a criminal justice element or they will risk inflicting more pain on innocent victims whose families have already sacrificed so much.

“Any proposals which snuff out any hope of justice need to be abandoned.

“The Irish Government needs to do more than what they are doing now. It’s not good enough that the Irish Government comes to the table with warm smiles, but little else. Where is their command paper and what are they going to do?”

Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin said there has to be a “consensus-based approach”.

He said: “What is at the foremost of our minds at all times must be the victims and their families.

“It’s very clear people want those that murdered their loved ones, be it paramilitaries, should be fully accountable to the justice system, fully acknowledging the challenges around that.”

Stormont is to be recalled on Tuesday after more than 30 MLAs signed a recall petition introduced by the SDLP.

MLAs will debate a motion calling for victims and survivors to have a “full, material and central role and input into the content and design of structures to address the legacy of the past”.

l Morning View, page 10, Ben Lowry page 11

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