Northern Ireland news

British government warned that Troubles' statute of limitations would be an 'act of bad faith'

 Brandon Lewis is expected to announce a statute of limitations for Troubles' offences. Picture by Mark Marlow/PA Wire

THE BRITISH government was last night warned that any unilateral departure from the Stormont House Agreement's legacy mechanisms would be regarded as an "act of bad faith".

The warning came ahead of an expected statement today by Brandon Lewis in which the secretary of state will outline proposals on how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

It was reported yesterday that it will involve a statute of limitations, ending all conflict-related prosecutions up to 1998.

It is expected to apply to former members of the security forces, as well as ex-paramilitaries.

Victims' groups, Stormont's five main parties and the Dublin government are all opposed to plans for what they regard as a de-facto amnesty.

The British government hopes to pass the necessary legislation through Westminster in the autumn.

It recently announced it would be holding "short and focused" talks on legacy but to date engagement with political representatives has been limited.

Sinn Féin has raised concerns that the British government is prepared to take steps that would also stop Troubles-related inquests and civil cases.

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SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly last night said she would "closely scrutinise" what the secretary of state says today but insisted there should be "no amnesty or statute of limitations for any group" and that those who lost loved ones in the conflict "have the right to a full and fair investigation".

"There is an agreed way forward on dealing with the legacy of our past and it is contained in the Stormont House Agreement," Ms Kelly said.

"The British government’s unilateral departure from that framework is an act of bad faith with the sole aim of shielding former soldiers and paramilitaries from prosecution for their heinous actions."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said a proposal for a statute of limitations would "be at odds with human rights and the rule of law".

"If imposed over the heads of local parties and in particular victims groups, it would carry no legitimacy or credibility," the North Down MP tweeted.

More than 3,500 people died during the conflict, which stretched from the early 1970s to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement in 1998, while tens of thousands more were left injured.

In 2014, the Stormont House Agreement proposed a Historical Investigations Unit to examine unsolved murders during the Troubles and an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval for families to learn more about the fate of their loved ones.

None of the proposals were implemented.

Bereaved families have been seeking answers about what happened to their loved one by pursuing fresh inquests while a number of cases are being examined by former Bedfordshire Chief Constable Jon Boutcher.

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