Northern Ireland news

Fresh concerns raised about British government legacy proposals

Aontú councillor and deputy leader Denise Mullen
Connla Young

HUMAN rights groups, academics and lawyers have warned that British government legacy proposals could undermine the rule of law.

In an open letter 18 organisations, including human rights NGOs, legal firms and academics spell out their concerns about legacy bill plans.

The letter was penned after the Committee on the Administration of Justice recently convened a meeting of those involved in legacy work.

The say the planned bill, which was proposed during the queen's speech in May, "departs unilaterally from an existing agreement with the Irish government and local political parties".

"That departure appears to be driven primarily by a desire for impunity for the security forces," they write.

They say that based on media reports the bill "will contain a de facto amnesty, will end any prospect of effective, independent investigations into conflict related deaths and will instead establish a toothless ‘Legacy Commission’".

The worried experts also claim that the "UK government has declined to rule out that the bill will also seek to curtail criminal cases against the military that are already before the courts... and may seek also to dismantle the NI Lord Chief Justice’s programme of Legacy Inquests".

A series of mechanisms for dealing with the past agreed under the 2014 Stormont House Agreement have yet to be implemented despite a subsequent commitment made in the New Decade New Approach deal last year.

The signatories of the recent letter believe the proposals may breach the law.

"We are concerned that the new proposals by the British government would breach both international law and the domestic Human Rights Act, deliver impunity, bury truth recovery and fundamentally undermine the rule of law," they write.

Denise Mullen, who witnessed the murder of her father Denis, a member of the SDLP, by the Glenanne Gang in 1975.

The notorious murder squad included members of the RUC, UDR and UVF.

Ms Mullen, now an Aontú councillor and deputy leader, said she is opposed to the bill.

"In my father's case I am looking at the over-arching person or organisation who planned it," she said.

"Time is moving on for us all, we can't move on with our lives unless we are given this accountability."

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Office said: "The current system is working for no one, failing to bring satisfactory outcomes for families, placing a heavy burden on the criminal justice system, and leaving society in Northern Ireland hamstrung by its past.

"This is why this government is committed to bringing forward legislation that focuses on reconciliation, delivers for victims, and ends the cycle of investigations into the Troubles in Northern Ireland."

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