Leading article

Case for Libya compensation compelling

THE wholly unsatisfactory treatment of Troubles victims has been a far too persistent feature of our politics in the long years - 23, next month - since the Good Friday Agreement.

And while politicians in Belfast and London argue and procrastinate, it is the injured, the bereaved and the traumatised who are left with continuing uncertainty and suffering.

There has been a further demonstration of the gap between political rhetoric about prioritising victims' interests and its dispiriting reality at Westminster this week.

It centres on longstanding calls for victims of IRA bombs made with Semtex supplied by Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to be compensated from the country's frozen assets.

The UK holds around £12 billion linked to the Gaddafi regime, seized in March 2011 under United Nations sanctions imposed during the Libyan Civil War. Gaddafi was captured and killed later that year.

Libyan Semtex was used in some of the IRA's deadliest attacks, including the bombings of Harrods in 1983, the Remembrance Day ceremony in Enniskillen in 1987, Warrington in 1993 and London's Docklands in 1996.

Campaigners argue that funds amassed by the dictator's regime should compensate those affected by bombings he facilitated.

Successive British governments have said that under international law it cannot touch the frozen money - a stricture that does not, however, prevent it collecting and spending around £5 million in tax each year.

The proposal that this money should be directed towards compensating victims is compelling.

But the government ignores this and talks about 'continuing to press' the Libyan authorities, something it has done to negligible effect compared to the United States, France and Germany, who have already secured compensation.

In 2019, the then foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt asked William Shawcross, a former chairman of England's Charity Commission, to examine the issue.

The government's response has been telling. For example, although Mr Shawcross submitted his report a year ago, to his 'surprise and disappointment' no minister or senior official has approached him about it.

The report's findings are confidential for now, but should be made public immediately.

Mr Shawcross, appearing before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee yesterday, agreed that there was a strong case for using the tax revenue to support victims.

It was, he observed, "a tragedy it wasn't settled many decades ago"; that it hasn't tells us, along with a litany of other examples, much about how politicians and governments truly prioritise Troubles' victims.

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Leading article