Unanimous opposition to security forces amnesty: victims commissioner

Victims from across the spectrum in Northern Ireland are united in opposition to a proposed amnesty for security force members who served during the Troubles, the Province's victims commissioner has said.

Wednesday, 29th November 2017, 5:26 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th November 2017, 5:29 pm
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry (fourth left) with members of the Victims Forum at Stormont Hotel in Belfast

Judith Thompson said members of the Victims Forum, a representative body made up of those who have lost loved ones from all sides of the conflict, are unanimous on the issue.

Ms Thompson said she also agreed with the forum’s view that a statute of limitations should not be countenanced.

The commissioner was commenting after forum members discussed the contentious proposal for a statute of limitations on prosecutions at a meeting in Belfast.

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“Our forum members include ex-soldiers, it includes people who lost people they loved at the hands of the Army, there was nobody in that room wanted a statute of limitations or an amnesty for any party or for all parties,” she said.

A range of mechanisms to deal with the conflict legacy were agreed by Northern Ireland politicians in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement, an amnesty was not among them.

The agreed proposals, including a new independent investigatory unit, a truth recovery body and an oral archive, are on ice due to a small number of outstanding disputes.

Amid the political impasse on implementing the new structures, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has proposed conducting a consultation exercise to establish the wider public’s view.

His recent decision to also include the statute of limitations proposal as an alternative option to the Stormont House bodies came as a surprise to many.

Sinn Fein, the DUP and Irish government are among those who have voiced concern.

Members of the Victims Forum met with SDLP and Alliance representatives to discuss the consultation on Wednesday.

Ms Thompson said the forum feared the proposal could “confuse” the consultation exercise and serve as a “distraction”.

“People want different things in terms of truth and justice, but nobody wants to see somebody else denied something they want,” she said.

“So unanimously the forum do not wish for a statute of limitations, which they believe is an amnesty that will apply to all parties, and is something which was never part of the envisaged solution here.”

The government has said it still believes the Stormont House Agreement represents the “best means” to address the legacy of the conflict.

But it said it was right that the consultation includes alternative approaches.

Over the last year, the concept of an amnesty has gained traction among some unionist politicians and Tory backbenchers, who claim recent prosecutions of former British soldiers are tantamount to a “witch-hunt”.

Prosecutors and police in Northern Ireland insist such allegations simply do not stand up to scrutiny, with a breakdown of figures showing no disproportionate focus on ex-security force members.

Prior to the general election, Westminster’s Defence Committee recommended the last government introduce a statute of limitations.

After Wednesday’s meetings, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “The bottom line in this is every victim should be entitled to truth and justice, where possible.

“Nobody should have barriers put in their way in their search for justice.

“These people have waited for far too long for resolution to their issues and they have been used as a political football time and time again and that is happening again now.

“That needs to be taken off the table, it should not even be an option in the consultation document.”

Alliance party deputy leader Dr Stephen Farry added: “We share the concerns that are expressed right across the community, it is important to understand the reaction against this isn’t just something coming from the nationalist community.

“This is an issue about justice and the rule of law to ensure there is a level playing field.”