Northern Ireland news

Victims voice anger at British government's Troubles ‘amnesty' plan

Members from the Innocent Victims United group and their supporters outside Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, as several victims groups held meetings with Northern Ireland Office officials at Stormont House. Picture by David Young/PA Wire 
David Young, PA

Victims from across the community in Northern Ireland have met British government officials to make clear their opposition to plans to ban prosecutions for Troubles murders

Several victims groups held meetings with Northern Ireland Office officials at Stormont House today.

One group walked out of their meeting after only 10 minutes in protest while another staged a demonstration outside Parliament Buildings.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis announced last week that he intends to introduce legislation to create a statute of limitations which would end all prosecutions for incidents up to April 1998 and would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries.

The proposals, which British prime minister Boris Johnson said would allow Northern Ireland to “draw a line under the Troubles”, would also end all legacy inquests and civil actions related to the conflict.

But the plan has been heavily criticised by all the main political parties in Northern Ireland as well as the Dublin government, and a range of victims’ and survivors’ groups.

Among those protesting at Stormont was Co Down woman Sandra Harrison, whose 23-year-old brother Alan Johnston, a part-time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, was murdered by the IRA in 1988.

“His murderers have never been brought to justice and this amnesty that’s being proposed is a total disregard not just for Alan but for all the innocent victims,” she said.

“I feel the word amnesty and terrorism should not be in the same sentence, it’s total disregard for his life and for all the lives who have been laid down for peace in this country.

“I know it’s been over 30 years, but we still live in hope that one day a DNA sample and advances in DNA may help in Alan’s case or other cases.

“So I just can’t understand how the government can even fathom what they are doing and we just cannot believe the innocent victims are being treated this way.”

Co Tyrone UDR veteran David Newell, whose cousin and fellow soldier lance corporal Kenneth Newell was shot dead by the IRA in 1991, also attended the protest.

“In 30 years we’ve never seen justice, never and this amnesty is a total disgrace, a disgrace to people who have laid their life down for their country and have served,” he said.

Kenneth Donaldson, from the Innocent Victims United group that organised the demonstration, told the crowd that no one had ever suggested a statue of limitations on bringing Nazi war criminals to justice.

“But Northern Ireland is different, we’re told.

“It must not be different,” he said.

Mr Donaldson, whose group presented a letter of protest to the NIO, said there was unanimity across the victims’ sector in opposition to the proposals.

“With victims and survivor issues they often are complex and there’s division but on this particular issue there’s unanimity,” he said.

“Over this next period of time, victims and survivors’ voices must soar because it was coined to me in recent weeks by a widow who said ‘the Provisional IRA murdered my husband, the State are now proposing to murder justice’.”

Another group that met with NIO officials today was the Pat Finucane Centre, which represents many families bereaved by state violence.

The group cut short the meeting after 10 minutes in protest at the contention from the British government that the vast majority of the killings attributed to the state during the Troubles were lawful acts.

In a statement, the group said: “The PFC was invited to the meeting today with the NIO solely because we represent bereaved families.

“Some lost relatives at the hands of the ‘security forces’.

“In all conscience, therefore, we were unable to continue the meeting until the NIO has clarified its source for the ‘lawful’ claim which exculpates the killers from any legal blame.

“We are willing, indeed anxious, to discuss the British government’s current proposals on legacy which we find totally unacceptable and which, we believe, breach common law, international law, the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

“But, in all conscience, and out of respect for the families we represent, we feel unable to do so until London has, at least, either produced evidence to back up its claim in the Command Paper (the document that set out the statute of limitation proposals) or agrees to withdraw it.”

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