Leading article

Troubles victims and their families failed again

VICTIMS and their families have been dealt another blow after reports that the British government plans to legislate to stop any future prosecutions over Troubles crimes.

Such a move will be regarded as an amnesty for paramilitaries as well as the British military personnel that the Conservatives have come under pressure in Britain to protect from legal action.

It would also further confirm the British government's unilateral and shameful abandonment of the Stormont House agreement of 2014.

A statute of limitations to prevent Troubles prosecutions for alleged crimes committed before 1998's Good Friday Agreement is understood to be central to the government's plan, expected to be announced in next week's Queen's Speech.

Many will agree with Taoiseach Micheál Martin's assessment that a ban on Troubles-related prosecutions would be "a breach of trust".

Victims and their rights, including the right to pursue justice, do not appear to figure in the thinking of the British government.

Indeed, the timing of the leaks to London newspapers would appear to have more to do with bolstering the Conservative party's prospects in yesterday's elections in Britain than with any desire for meaningful engagement with Troubles victims.

As SDLP leader Colum Eastwood put it, "this is the most unprincipled and cynical British government in many years, and that's saying something".

Alliance leader Naomi Long said victims were being treated with contempt and did not deserve "to learn of government plans on Twitter".

The Dublin government also learned of the proposal through the media - despite secretary of state Brandon Lewis discussing legacy issues during a meeting with foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney in Dublin hours before the reports were published.

Legacy issues cannot be brushed aside, as some British ministers seem to believe.

This week alone has seen the collapse of the case against two paratroopers accused of killing Official IRA man Joe McCann and a damning report into the killing of four Catholics - including a child - by the RUC at the start of the Troubles. The Ballymurphy inquest findings are due next Tuesday.

In each of these cases, and numerous others, hurt is etched in the hearts of those left behind.

Denying victims of state forces and paramilitaries the possibility of justice is emphatically wrong, and the British government must rethink its approach and urgently implement Stormont House agreement.

That is the very least that the victims and their families demand and deserve.

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Leading article