Northern Ireland

Welcome for Keir Starmer pledge to repeal Tory's controversial legacy legislation

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer speaking at Queen's University. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer speaking at Queen's University. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

NATIONALIST politicians and human rights groups last night welcomed Sir Keir Starmer's pledge to repeal the Tory government's controversial legacy legislation.

The commitment by the Labour leader, the bookies' odds-on favourite to be the next prime minister, came yesterday during a visit to Belfast.

An acclaimed human rights lawyer, who previously worked in the north for the Policing Board, Sir Keir was asked about the British government's Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill during a question and answer session at Queen's University, where he delivered a lecture in the morning.

When asked if he would repeal the legislation, the Labour leader said he would.

His remarks come a month after the Republic's former foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney described the bill as "unacceptable" and said that the Irish government could not support it.

The legislation is opposed by all Stormont's parties.

Sir Keir said during his five-year tenure at the north's policing oversight body he had engaged with "many, many victims and victims' representatives".

He said the legislation was "wrong in principle".

"But, worse than that, or alongside that, no government in Westminster, in my view, should ever introduce legislation which has no support from any of the political parties in Northern Ireland, and no support from the victims who are at the heart of this," he said.

"I think that previous governments - Labour and Conservative - would have understood that, and it shows you how far this Conservative Government in recent years has moved from a genuine understanding of the principles and values of the Good Friday Agreement, that they would even countenance introducing legislation with zero political support here and zero support from the victims."

But Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris said any move to repeal the legislation, which opponents characterise as an amnesty, would be a "retrograde step that would prolong the wait for answers and accountability that many families have been after for decades".

"We have announced a number of proposed changes which seek to address key concerns that have been raised by many stakeholders, including victims and survivors," he said.

Mr Heaton-Harris urged the Labour Party to "work with us, so together we can help Northern Ireland move forward".

Grainne Teggart, the regional deputy director of Amnesty International, described the Sir Keir's remarks as a "significant statement and commitment".

"Amnesty International, victims, Northern Ireland political parties, the Irish government and others have been unequivocal in objection to the bill – it has no support," she said.

"It is not too late for the government to scrap it and commit to an agreed way forward."

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said the British government should "scrap the flawed legacy bill".

“This reckless legislation is being rushed through and ignores opposition from victims and families, political parties, human rights experts and now the British Labour Party," he said.

“The commitment given today in Belfast by the leader of the British opposition that he would repeal what is clearly an unjust piece of legislation is welcome."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the bill as an "affront to victims and survivors".

"It seeks to shield paramilitary and state killers from investigation while shutting down paths to justice for families who have been campaigning for decades on behalf of their loved ones," he said.

The Foyle MP welcomed the Labour leader’s commitment and said the SDLP would support such a move at Westminster.