Northern Ireland news

UK Government accused of 'stonewalling' UN over legacy bill concerns

PABest.Members of the victims group South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) demonstrate outside the Houses Of Parliament in Westminster before meeting with members of The House of Lords as the second reading of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill proceeds. Picture date: Tuesday January 31, 2023. PA Photo. The UK Government has said the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill aims to provide better outcomes for victims, survivors and veterans. The proposed legislation has been widely criticised by Northern Ireland's political parties, as well as victims' campaigners, the Irish Government and Amnesty International. See PA story ULSTER Legacy. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.
John Breslin

The UK Government has been accused of “stonewalling” the United Nations over a failure to respond to serious concerns over its legacy bill.

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris is blaming an “administrative error” for the government not responding for more than six months to a highly critical official letter while the bill rapidly progresses through parliament.

The letter authored by two special rapporteurs asks for detailed explanations for what it is claimed are potential breaches of international law.

“It is disturbing the government has failed to reply to the UN, on such an important issue as legacy,” said Shadow Secretary of State Peter Kyle.

"There are global concerns about the Tories' legacy bill and the government needs to engage instead of stonewalling.”

While there is no deadline for governments to respond to what are called “other letters”, most, including London, reply long before the more than six months it has taken in this case.

Governments have 60 days to respond to“allegation letters” and 30 days when it is an urgent appeal over suspected ongoing human rights violations.

The special rapporteurs Fabian Salvioli and Morris Tidball-Binz asked for information on how the bill complies with “international norms and standards in the field of truth, justice, reparation, memorialisation and guarantees of non-recurrence”.

The bill is now heading towards its final stages in the House of Lords before it returns to the Commons for likely passage.

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris, in answer to a parliamentary question from Mr Kyle, said his government “will be apologising for this administrative error and delay”.

“A response was drafted by the Northern Ireland Office following receipt of the formal communication from the United Nations Special Rapporteurs in July 2022,” Mr Heaton said.

“Following a delay due to an administrative error, this will be issued shortly by the responsible department, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office."

When questioned on a timeline for a response and the nature of the administrative error, the NIO referred the Irish News to the written answer and added: “We have nothing further to add.”

Labour’s Peter Kyle said: “The key test is that the legislation provide greater benefit to victims of acts of terror than their perpetrators.

"The Labour Party, along with all parties and communities in Northern Ireland, opposes the bill."

The UK Government's position is that the introduction of a “legacy package” does not amount to a de facto amnesty and a mechanism for impunity and would not discharge the country from fulfilling its human rights obligations.

Northern Ireland news