Northern Ireland news

Campaigners demanding end to Troubles ‘amnesty' plan get Westminster backing

 Raymond McCord (centre) leads Troubles victims of The Troubles and their families through Parliament Square, Westminster, ahead of a meeting in the Houses of Parliament with MPs and peers as they step up their campaign against a proposed statute of limitations on future prosecutions for crimes committed during the Troubles. Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Catherine Wylie, PA

Victims of the Troubles have received backing from political parties in Westminster as they continue their campaign against a proposed ban on future prosecutions related to the conflict.

In July, the British Government announced plans for a statute of limitations that would end all prosecutions for Troubles incidents up to April 1998, but a range of parties have now signed a pledge rejecting these proposals.

Military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries would be protected from prosecution under the measure.

The proposals would also end all legacy inquests and civil actions related to the conflict.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the measures would allow Northern Ireland to “draw a line under the Troubles”.

Raymond McCord, whose son was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in north Belfast in 1997, said a meeting held in Westminster “couldn’t have went better”.

He told the PA news agency: “There was no way it could have went better. Total support from every political party at Westminster except the Tories.”

Mr McCord said the nine people who went to Westminster to meet MPs had lost 15 family members between them.

Speaking after the meeting, he referred to the murder of MP Sir David Amess, saying: “We all sympathise with the family, but there’s no way Boris Johnson would take a gamble and insult that family the way he’s insulted our families by saying we’re going to let the terrorists walk free.”

Mr McCord said Mr Johnson must scrap the plans in the face of such widespread opposition.

“In the wake of what’s happened here today at Westminster, for us and the sake of democracy and truth and justice, he has to take these proposals away. They have to be scrapped,” Mr McCord said.

He said the death yesterday of British Army veteran Dennis Hutchings, who was on trial charged with the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham in Co Tyrone in 1974, did not come up in the meeting.

Representatives from political parties signed a pledge at the meeting which said: “We, the undersigned, totally reject the British Government’s proposals for ‘dealing with the past’, including amnesties for those who committed murder.

“No individual, group, organisation or state forces/agents can be immune from prosecution.

“Investigations, prosecutions, inquests and civil actions cannot be abolished and due process must take place.”

The plan has already been heavily criticised by all the main political parties in Northern Ireland, as well as the Irish Government and a number of victims’ and survivors’ groups.

Read more: PPS defends decision to prosecute British Army veteran Dennis Hutchings

SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood, who was among those who signed the pledge, said: “We now have the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, all five parties in Northern Ireland, against these proposals.

“The Tory Government should not be comfortable in opposing all of that, opposing public sentiment in Northern Ireland and opposing the rule of law, and equality under the law.

“The fact is, if these killings and murders happened in Manchester, or Liverpool or London, there is no chance at all that the British Government would be saying that there’s no opportunity for truth or justice.”

Mr Eastwood said Boris Johnson’s “overriding ambition” is “to try to keep dark corners dark”, adding: “They don’t want people to know what the State did, or what paramilitaries did, or what they did together, acting in unison. They don’t want that to happen.”

Alliance MP Stephen Farry told the PA news agency: “There is almost universal rejection of what is a de facto amnesty that has been proposed by the UK Government, and that simply can’t be allowed to stand.

“That will set the legacy process back many, many, many decades, essentially eliminate the hope for many people.

“And there’s huge resentment that the reconciliation concept is being used as a vehicle to justify these proposals, when many people see this as actually hindering the reconciliation process because they see truth and justice as being a fundamental building block in that regard.”

Asked what it will say about the Prime Minister and the Government if opposition to the proposals is ignored, Mr Farry said: “It’s a further example of his disregard to what Northern Ireland actually thinks on issues, whether it’s in terms of what has been happening in relation to Brexit, in terms of respect for the Assembly having its own control over its budgets, and now in terms of legacy.

“They have a very particular view of the world that they’re determined to impose on Northern Ireland to suit a perceived agenda in England.

“And that is very disruptive for cohesion right across these islands.”

Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew was also among those supporting the campaign in Westminster and said it was “very heartening” to hear all the parties in a consensus that Boris Johnson’s proposals are “absolutely wrong and should never ever go through”.

Earlier, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said he believes there needs to be an agreement arrived at which “sets in place a process that continues to provide access to justice for families right across the board”.

Ahead of the meeting in Westminster, he told the PA news agency: “I think it is wrong to close off the prospect of justice where there is new and compelling evidence that might lead to a conviction.

“I think we can question whether that was in fact the case in respect of Dennis Hutchings, but I think that as a principle that is one we should continue to pursue and I hope agreement can be reached on that basis.”

Read more: PPS defends decision to prosecute British Army veteran Dennis Hutchings

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