A leading campaigner is threatening to take a civil action against senior republicans if the government does not compensate terror victims using assets belonging to Colonel Gaddafi which are frozen in the UK.
The ultimatum was issued last night by Willie Frazer, who has been campaigning for over a decade for compensation from the Libyan regime on account of the many tonnes of weaponry it supplied to the IRA during the Troubles.
He was speaking only hours after Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds that compensation from Libya for IRA victims was out of the question at present as there is effectively no government to deal with in the strife-torn north African country.
Libya has had a political and security vacuum since the 2011 uprising which led to the overthrow of former leader Muammar Gaddafi. Numerous different armed groups now battle for control.
Responding to Mr Dodds, Mr Hammond said: “I very much regret to have to tell you the reality on the ground in Libya is that there is no authority to engage with. For the moment I can report no progress on those measures.
“The urgent need now is to get a government of national unity created for the Libyan people to deal collectively with the threat to their society that is posed by the establishment of Isil cells in Libya.
“Once we have such an authority in place we will then of course re-engage with that agenda.”
Mr Hammond said the next few weeks and months would be crucial for the country, but said it was not as simple as getting behind the democratic forces.
He added: “It isn’t clear there is a democratic authority behind which we can get. We need a coming together.”
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said the Libyan government is on the run due to Islamic extremists and as a result the UK has closed their embassy in the country.
Nobody can predict what will happen next, whether the extremists or the government will gain control, he added. “Sadly all of this means it is not possible to progress the compensation claims.”
He added: “Many of those in opposition who gave us commitments about compensation are not in the new administration – which does not regard this as a high priority anyway.”
Former UUP leader Lord Empey said Mr Hammond’s statement will come as “a blow to victims but not a surprise”.
He added: “We can all see the chaos in Libya where rival militias are fighting each other and the Islamic State is trying to muscle in and take advantage of the ungoverned space that is opening up for them. Victims will be forced to wait, I believe, for a very long time before there is a coherent and democratic government with which we can do business.”
But Mr Frazer, who originally spearheaded the compensation claim, was last night not content to wait.
“We intend to travel to Libya at the end of May or June,” he said. “The Foreign Office has advised us that it was too dangerous to go out but now we have heard that ex-prisoners from Northern Ireland have been going out there in recent weeks, so we intend to go as soon as possible.
“We have contacts out there that are more than willing to help. The UK government is sitting on billions of assets located in the UK which belong to Gaddafi and his family circle.
“So the government has a choice. Either it compensates IRA victims from those assets or we have people in Libya who are willing to tell us everything about the senior IRA personnel Gaddafi was dealing with and the Irish government figures who knew what was going on.
“Then we will take a civil action against the IRA men involved, using some of the same legal people that won the civil case against those behind the Omagh bomb.”
The News Letter previously reported that a financial settlement as large as £2bn was likely to see three tranches of money paid over by the North African state.
The Foreign Office was not available for comment last night.
A deal struck between Libya and the US government in 2008 saw 273 victims’ families receive £2.7bn compensation – but Tony Blair was reported to have intervened to ensure British IRA victims were not eligible.
The Foreign Office has been involved in the negotiations since then Prime Minister Gordon Brown was forced into an embarrassing U-turn on support for the victims’ campaign in 2009.
Libya was the only country which officially donated arms for the IRA campaign. In 2009 a cross-party delegation of MPs and peers travelled to Tripoli, pressing senior figures in the Libyan regime to compensate the victims of its weaponry.
In 2010 a Foreign Office spokeswoman told the News Letter that the Libyan government considered the matter closed.
She added: “We now judge that the most likely way for the victims and families of victims to succeed is for them to address the Libyan government directly in their own campaign. This is why we have created a dedicated unit in the FCO to support the families campaigning for compensation, which is now working closely with the families’ representatives.”