All prosecutions related to Troubles effectively ended, British Government announces
The British Government intends to introduce a statute of limitations which would end all prosecutions of ex-paramilitaries and former members of the security forces in Troubles-related cases, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has told the Commons.
Secretary of State
Brandon Lewis confirmed proposals for a statute of limitations “to apply equally to all Troubles-related incidents”, telling the Commons: “We know that the prospect of the end of criminal prosecutions will be difficult for some to accept and this is not a position we take lightly.
“But we’ve come to the view that this is the best and only way to facilitate an effective information retrieval and provision process, and the best way to help Northern Ireland move further along the road to reconciliation.
“It is in reality a painful recognition of the very reality of where we are.”
Brandon Lewis earlier said the British Government intends to introduce legislation “by the end of this autumn”.
The other two proposals include a new independent body to focus on the recovery and provision of information about Troubles-related deaths and most serious injuries.
Mr Lewis told MPs: “This body will be focused on helping families to find out the truth of what happened to their loved ones. Where families do not want the past raked over again they would be able to make this clear.
“For those families that want to get answers, the body will have the full powers to seek access to information and find out what happened.”
Mr Lewis said another proposal included a “major oral history initiative”, adding: “It’d create opportunities for people from all backgrounds to share their experiences and perspectives related to the Troubles and, crucially, to learn about those of others.”
Opening his statement to MPs, Brandon Lewis said: “It’s clear the current system for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles is not working.
“It’s now a difficult, in fact painful, truth that the focus on criminal investigations is increasingly unlikely to deliver successful criminal justice outcomes, but all the while it continues to divide communities and it fails to obtain answers for a majority of victims and families.
“The Police Service of Northern Ireland is currently considering almost 1,200 cases – which represents just a fraction of the 3,500 deaths and wider cases.
“These would take over 20 years to investigate. More than two-thirds of Troubles-related deaths occurred over 40 years ago and it is increasingly difficult for the courts to provide the families with the answers they are seeking.
Michael O’Hare, whose 12-year-old sister Majella was shot by a soldier in 1976, said the legacy proposals set out by Brandon Lewis were an “utter and unacceptable betrayal”.
Mr O’Hare, supported by Amnesty, is calling for an independent investigation into the killing.
He said: “These proposals are an utter and unacceptable betrayal – they must not succeed. The UK Government is inflicting great pain on my family and other victims denied justice.
“Our Majella had her life cruelly robbed, at the tender age of 12, by bullets from a soldier’s machine gun. She was an innocent child with her whole life ahead of her. The Ministry of Defence apologised to my family, but a proper investigation has never happened.
“The UK Government is now trying to deny us meaningful truth and justice forever. I will never stop fighting for Majella – my sister deserves justice. I hope these proposals are firmly rejected. I call on all parties involved to end the perpetual cycle of victims being failed.”
Families of the 10 people killed by soldiers in Ballymurphy in west Belfast in 1971 came together to watch Mr Lewis's statement to the House of Commons.
A fresh inquest into the deaths of the woman and nine men earlier this year found they were "entirely innocent".
Eileen Corr, daughter of Joseph Corr, said they see the proposed statute of limitations on Troubles prosecutions as the British Government's "cynical attempt to bring an amnesty and a plan to bury its war crimes".
She said the proposals "will not be tolerated and will be legally challenged".
"The Ballymurphy Massacre inquest findings show how the law should work independently," she said.
"All victims need to know the truth, they need to know what happened to their loved ones. We all bleed the same blood so everybody needs truth and justice and then maybe they can start living their lives.
"We spent 50 years trying to prove that our loved ones were innocent, there are loads of families out there like us and they all need to know the same thing."
DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP has said Government plans to introduce a statute of limitations for Troubles-related offences would be “rejected by everyone in Northern Ireland who stands for justice and the rule of law”.
Sir Jeffrey said: “The past is complex and we have always believed that any process to deal with the legacy of our troubled past should be victim-centred. Victims will see these proposals as perpetrator-focused rather than victim-focused and an insult to both the memory of those innocent victims who lost their lives during our Troubles and their families.
“Justice was corrupted in 1998 with the release of prisoners and then by Tony Blair’s on-the-run letters. Understandably many victims will feel that these proposals represent a further denial of the opportunity to secure justice for their loved ones.
“There can be no equivalence between the soldier and police officer who served their country and those cowardly terrorists who hid behind masks and terrorised under the cover of darkness. We find any such attempted equivalence as offensive.
“The Democratic Unionist Party, both publicly and privately, has, and continues to oppose, any form of amnesty. Everyone must be equal under the law and equally subject to the law. We will oppose any plans that give an effective amnesty to those who murdered and maimed over many decades.
“We understand that with the passage of time the prospect of justice is diminishing for many but these proposals, if passed, will extinguish that flickering flame of justice completely and is a moral overreach that cannot be accepted.”
“If we fail to act now to properly address, acknowledge and account for the legacy of the Troubles, we will be condemning current and future generations to yet further division – preventing reconciliation at both the individual and societal level.”
Labour has accused the Government of putting its own party political interests before the country in its plans for an “amnesty” on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh also said the Government’s plans were unsustainable and did not uphold the rule of law.
Addressing the Commons, the Labour frontbench MP said: “Ministers today appear to have concluded that the rule of law no longer applies. An amnesty for the republican and loyalist terrorists who tortured, maimed, disappeared and murdered men, women, and children.
“Addressing the toxic legacy of the past in this way, through unilateral imposition from Westminster, without the support of any political party in Northern Ireland, is foolish and unsustainable.”
She had earlier said: “Any proposal to deal with legacy must have victims and the communities of Northern Ireland at its heart. That requires real care from the Secretary of State, so it is deeply regrettable that his approach has already seen trust among victims reach rock bottom.
“Little wonder that many have greeted today’s proposals with deep scepticism and wonder if it is more an exercise in shoring up narrow party support than it is in delivering the reconciliation communities in Northern Ireland crave.”
The Northern Ireland Secretary has said continuing with criminal investigations into the Troubles will be “unlikely” to resolve the legacy of the conflict.
Brandon Lewis was responding to Labour’s criticisms of the Government plan to bring an end to all historical prosecutions related to the Troubles.
He said: “It is increasingly clear and I have been frank with the House in my opening remarks, that any approach to dealing with the legacy of the past that focuses on criminal investigations will be unlikely to deliver the outcomes that people hope for. There is a point at which we in this House need to be honest with people about the very painful difficult reality of where we are today.”
Mr Lewis later added: “We are also very clear that we will never accept any moral equivalence between those that upheld the law in Northern Ireland – those that served their country – and those that sought to destroy it.”
The Northern Ireland Secretary also said Labour had not proposed “a single thing” about a way forward.