Northern Ireland news

British government accused of being on 'war footing' over legacy

Christine Duffy and her mother Kathleen hold a picture of her brother Seamus Duffy who died after being hit by a plastic bullet in August 1989. Picture by Hugh Russell
Connla Young

THE British government has been accused of being on a "war footing" over its disputed proposals for dealing with the past.

There was a backlash last night after it emerged that a controversial bill presented at Westminster contained proposals to halt civil cases not lodged before the bill was introduced yesterday.

Existing claims will be allowed to continue.

Many relatives of those who lost loved ones during the Troubles are bitterly opposed to the contentious plans.

Under The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill only inquests which have reached substantive hearing stage a year after the bill will be allowed to continue while anyone with Troubles related convictions will not be eligible for immunity.

Relatives of those killed during the Troubles have voiced concern.

Christine Duffy, whose brother Seamus Duffy, was the last person killed by a plastic bullet in the north, said the British government are "looking after their own".

The 15-year-old died after being struck by a plastic bullet fired by an RUC officer on August 9 1989. The teenager was named after his uncle Seamus Cassidy, who was shot dead by the British army in 1972.

"Honestly I'm not surprised by it, they have treated us like much over all these years," she said.

"But we will not let them get away with it, we will continue to fight for my brother and uncle Seamus - we will keep fighting until we get truth and justice for both of them."

Lawyers for Deirdre Owens, whose ex-fiance John Fennell was killed as part of an INLA fallout in Co Donegal in 1996, issued a writ in relation to the case yesterday.

"It's undermining the very laws they make," she said.

"They are taking our rights away from us very quickly with regards top truth and justice and they have left victims high and dry with no recourse at this stage."

Solicitor Kevin Winters, of KRW Law, said his firm issued 76 writs yesterday adding that the "manner in which the draft Bill has been introduced is disingenuous".

Mr Winters said that "there was no indication either last night or beforehand that a section would be inserted to exclude any civil action issued on the day of the first reading of the bill before parliament".

"In our view this breaches Article 6 of the ECHR - the right to a fair hearing."


Mr Winters said the bill will be challenged through the courts.

"Our entire office staff were involved throughout the day in issuing of over 70 emergency High Court actions against the state alleging various torts including misfeasance (collusion), failure to investigate and extra judicial killings and executions," he said.

"At the start of the day we had no inkling that a crude and unjust line would be drawn to guillotine any cases issued on the day of the first reading.

"It will lead to inevitable judicial review challenge if there’s an attempt to exclude these freshly issued cases."

Mark Thompson from Relatives for Justice said the proposals are a setback to peace building work branding it a "bill of shame".

"Reconciliation will never be achieved under these terms," he said.

"The British government are on a war footing through the prism of victims and legacy.

"Let’s be clear, there are no investigations whatsoever in this bill despite the words ‘investigation’ being used in media briefings by the NIO (Northern Ireland Office)," he said.

"This is disingenuous and a ruse by the British government to placate concerns and criticisms."

Mr Thompson said the London government has previously "fought families in the courts to prevent disclosure and discovery of information including locking down files for 100 years in some cases".

"And now they are locking down the courts and have the audacity to tell victims the process they propose will deliver and is in society’s best interest," he said.

"The only interests served are those of the British establishment."

Gavin Booth, of Phoenix Law, said "the actions" of the British government "are reprehensible and serve only to reinforce the narrative that they have more to hide".

"Many families today have issued proceedings and will continue to oppose all steps by the government to block their access to the courts and ultimately the truth."

An NIO spokesperson last night said: "The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill will put in place an effective information recovery process, underpinned by robust and independent investigations, to provide answers for families, deliver on commitments to those who served in Northern Ireland, and help society to look forward.

"The legislation will ensure that legacy issues are addressed comprehensively and fairly, and in a way that supports information recovery and reconciliation, complies fully with international human rights obligations and responds to the needs of victims and survivors, and society as a whole."

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