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Legacy bill delayed after nationalists object

RFJ director Mark Thompson has accused the British government of failing to properly investigate Troubles-related deaths
Connla Young

THE British government has delayed tabling a controversial bill on how to deal with the past.

It had been expected that the Stormont House Agreement-linked bill would be tabled at Westminster.

However, it is believed a decision was taken to postpone the move after objections were raised by nationalists.

A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Office said the bill “was to be introduced very soon”.

The political agreement, which was reached last December, proposed a Historical Investigations Unit to replace the now defunct Historical Enquiries Team which will investigate unsolved killings and provide reports to families.

Concerns have been raised that the British government will attempt to control the release of information on “national security” grounds.

Nationalist politicians and several campaign groups have objected to the draft bill.

It is understood the Irish government has also raised concerns about the bill.

SDLP negotiator Alex Attwood last night said he has asked British Secretary of State Theresa Villiers not to table the bill “until it is right”.

“It is wrong and fundamentally wrong in multiple places,” he said.

“The bill rewrites Stormont House in critical ways. It openly conflicts with Patten and the lines of demarcation between the political and policing.

“The Bill restricts cases that can be reinvestigated. It gives London extravagant powers to block families having answers to questions going back years.

“The Legacy Bill has numerous other weaknesses in addition to the fundamentals.”

Mark Thompson, director of campaign group Relatives for Justice, said the group could not support the bill as it stands and accused the British government of failing to properly investigate Troubles-related deaths.

“If the British government were to proceed based upon what we have seen then there would be absolutely no support whatsoever for their plans,” he said.

"There can be no doubt that Villiers was forced to pull this piece of bad faith legislation.

“The draft legislation is peppered with references to ‘national security’ that if legislated for would enable gagging orders prohibiting any scrutiny of state killings where and when a British Secretary for State so decided.”

Daniel Holder from the Committee on the Administration of Justice said in their view the Northern Ireland Office was trying to depart dramatically from the Stormont House Agreement”.

“This is not least by trying to undermine the independence of the HIU with a raft of powers for ministers themselves to censor reports to families on the deliberately vague grounds of national security,” he said.

A spokesman for the Alliance Party said they had urged the British government “to take the necessary time to secure such a consensus” for the bill.

A spokeswoman for the Irish government said: “We do not comment on draft texts which are part of ongoing negotiations.”

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