The letter from US politicians attacking UK legacy plan ‘is co-ordinated with academics and Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs’

A group which campaigns against what it sees as the anti UK state imbalance in Northern Ireland legacy matters has dismissed an intervention from US politicians.

Monday, 20th September 2021, 6:42 pm
Updated Monday, 20th September 2021, 6:49 pm
Jeff Dudgeon is convenor of the Malone House Group, which challenges what it sees as the anti UK state imbalance in the handling of legacy matters

The Malone House Group described a letter from members of the US Congress to Boris Johnson as part of a “co-ordinated reaction” to London’s plan to scale back investigations into NI’s troubled past.

In the letter to the prime minister, the US politicians members called for the UK government to reaffirm its commitment to the Stormont House Agreement and expressed concern that the proposed legacy laws would strain the British-Irish relationship and “cement widespread feelings” that justice is being denied.

In July, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis announced plans for a statute of limitations which would end prosecutions for Troubles incidents up to April 1998 and would apply to military veterans as well as paramilitaries.

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A photograph of the letter by members of US congress who have called on Boris Johnson to scrap his proposals to ban future prosecutions related to the Troubles. Photo: PA/PA Wire

But Jeff Dudgeon, who is convenor of the Malone House Group, which he points out is an NGO recognised in Strasbourg, said: “This statement is part of a co-ordinated reaction to the NIO’s proposals to end Troubles investigations. The Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin alongside their academic allies are pulling out all the usual stops to oppose the government’s plan to end the lawfare of the last decade.”

Mr Dudgeon added: “American opposition, in particular, has to be taken seriously even though it is partisan in origin. There are a few Republicans amongst the Congress signatories.

“One hopes therefore our Washington Embassy is working on them to advise of the realities here — that the local parties are only united in opposition to this latest item of amnesty legislation and are totally at odds on alternatives while the Stormont House Agreement (which was never agreed by all the parties) is simply no longer relevant.”

London’s legacy proposals, which Mr Johnson has said will allow Northern Ireland to “draw a line under the Troubles”, would also end all legacy inquests and civil actions related to the conflict.

Any notion of an amnesty has been widely condemned by campaigners on both sides of the Troubles divide and politicians across the spectrum.

But Mr Dudgeon said: “With all sides, including Jon Boutcher of Kenova, agreeing there will be no more prosecutions and the QUB Law Faculty proposing no further jail terms for army veterans, the issue is how much time, money and effort should be put into legacy.

“European law is unclear and varied on such statute of limitations legislation, especially as the judgments of the Strasbourg Human Rights Court are increasingly being resisted by the Supreme Court in London. This is an area worthy of both legal and academic debate, both here and in America, if the Congressmen and lawyers engaged.”

The American letter, led by Congressmen Brendan Boyle and Brian Fitzpatrick, has been signed by 36 members.

They said it would be a “serious mistake” for the UK government to renege on its commitments laid out under the Stormont House Agreement, adding it would lead to “major setbacks” in the search for justice and reconciliation.

They said they were “disappointed” that the UK government plans to introduce new legislation that would modify the agreement’s legacy laws.

“To be clear, we strongly disapprove these proposals,” they added.

“We believe that they would not only prevent a pathway to justice, but that they would also strip these families of their legal rights protected under European Law and the Good Friday Agreement.

“The issue of legacy killings spans across generations and any continued deprival of justice will only further deepen the wound that this history has on Britain and Ireland.

“We are concerned that these legacy laws would strain the British-Irish relationship and cement widespread feelings that justice is being denied.

“There is no doubt that the difficult and troubling legacy of the past must be addressed, and we as members of congress will continue to advocate on this issue until good faith action is taken and progress is made.

“These legacy proposals require genuine reconsideration. Delivering answers for these bereaved families has been a longstanding priority for Irish-American community and those interested in global peace. We will continue to listen to these families as they await long overdue answers.

“We urge you to re-examine these proposals, reverse the decision and reaffirm your commitment to the Stormont House Agreement.”

They also expressed concern that the Historical Investigations Unit, set up under the 2014 Agreement, has been slow to investigate legacy cases, describing it as “stagnant”.

“Had the Historical Investigations Unit been provided with the resources and attention it was promised more substantial progress might have been achieved over the past several years,” they added.

Part of the push for a statute of limitations is a bid to prevent British Army veterans who served during the Troubles from being dragged before the courts decades later.

• A spokeswoman for the UK government said: “The government’s deepest sympathies lie with all those who lost loved ones during the Troubles.

“The current system for addressing the past is not working well for anybody, most importantly victims and survivors. It is delivering neither justice nor information to the vast majority of families.

“The government wants to deliver an approach which builds on the principles of the Stormont House Agreement and takes account of the feedback we have heard, and continue to hear, from stakeholders and those most affected.

“Obtaining information, through thorough and robust investigations, is the cornerstone of the government’s proposals. This would be conducted by an independent body and supported by full disclosure by the state. The government continues to engage and reflect on what we have heard, and we are considering our next steps carefully.”

But Raymond McCord, whose son Raymond Jr was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries, said: “The only people who agree with these proposals are the people who are trying to push it through.

“Why is Boris and (Northern Ireland Secretary) Brandon Lewis so eager to get this through? If people are innocent, would why they need an amnesty? The only people who need amnesty are people who are guilty.

“The letter is a massive step forward because we have the support of the biggest democracy in the world, powerful people in congress.

“Boris is being told that he is breaking the Good Friday Agreement.

“This is a massive boost, not just for my family, but for all victims.

“I really welcome this letter. We have politicians from the main land on board, we’ve got politicians from Dublin and Northern Ireland on board, and now we have America on board.

“Every single one of them rejects the proposals. It will put a lot of pressure on Boris Johnson.

“What Prime Minister would want to give an amnesty to murderers?”

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