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Opinion: Victims have been failed again

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis confirms the government will seek to introduce a statute of limitations on Troubles-related killings . Picture by Mal McCann.
Leading Article

IT is not often that Stormont's main parties are united on a subject, much less on one so contentious as dealing with the legacy of the past.

This should clearly signal to the British government the depth of anger and the sense of betrayal felt by politicians, victims and the wider public towards its openly-stated plan to "draw a line under the Troubles".

The proposals outlined yesterday are breathtaking in their scope.

Not only would legislation impose a statute of limitations on offences prior to 1998, it would end legacy inquests, Police Ombudsman investigations and even civil actions related to the conflict.

It is the latter measures that have shocked even those braced for the well-trailed announcement of what is a de facto amnesty.

Given the well-documented difficulties in meeting standards of proof for prosecutions sometimes decades after the fact, inquests and actions for damages have often provided the only judicial route for victims seeking truth, justice or some measure of closure.

The move could affect dozens of families awaiting inquests and hundreds of others involved in civil claims.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis may be right to say the current system is not working.

This, however, is in large part due to his own government's refusal to implement legacy proposals painstakingly agreed at Stormont House talks in 2014.

It is equally disingenuous for Boris Johnson to say the intention is to enable the people of Northern Ireland to move forward.

There are arguments for and against a statute of limitations, but it is party political considerations rather than reconciliation that this government is prioritising.

What Conservative MPs actually mean is that the system is not working for constituents who served as soldiers in Northern Ireland and, in a very limited number of cases, now find themselves being held to account for actions which were often subject to only cursory investigation at the time.

An information recovery process is promised in lieu of criminal investigations, although families would entitled to be sceptical about the prospects of perpetrators coming forward when the justice system with all its powers has been unsuccessful.

Victims have been failed time and time again. Whatever the obstacles in the path of achieving justice, closing down even that possibility would be the ultimate betrayal almost a quarter of a century after the Good Friday Agreement.

 Families of the 10 killed by soldiers in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in 1971 came together to watch Mr Lewis’ statement to the House of Commons. Eileen McKeown, daughter of Joseph Corr, speaks outside Springhill Community House in Belfast.

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