By Mark Thompson, CEO
The UK Legacy Bill – The NI Troubles (Legacy & Reconciliation) Bill will have its second reading in the House of Lords today.
This Bill will prohibit all forms of investigation into approximately 1,800 unsolved murders carried out during the conflict. This includes investigations, ongoing and pending, by the PSNI’s Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB) of which there are 1,421, the NI Police Ombudsman, and those murders currently being examined through external processes such as Operation Kenova. The Bill will also prohibit future civil litigation in the courts along with coroners’ inquests. It will also close open inquests scheduled to take place. The Bill represents a lockdown on rights, the rule of law, accountability, and justice. It amounts to a blanket amnesty.
Relatives for Justice (RFJ) has already described the Bill as ‘anti-rule of law, anti-democratic, anti-victim, and entirely pro-perpetrator’.
The principal motivation for this Tory Bill is to indemnify from prosecution members of the British Army, its intelligence agencies, agent handlers, and state agents within illegal paramilitaries responsible for murder.
The UK Bill is opposed by the Irish government, all the political parties on the island of Ireland, and the opposition parties in the UK parliament. Indeed, significant members of the Tory party have also spoken publicly about their concerns and opposition to the Bill. Several former Secretaries of State to the North have also voiced opposition.
Internationally, the Bill has been roundly condemned, with influential political figures from the US going on record to say it should be scrapped. On Sunday Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Irish-Americans, gathered at an AOH event in the Bronx, that when he met Boris Johnson “I let him know that there will be no trade deals done if there is any backsliding on the Good Friday Agreement…,” Senator Schumer added he opposed “…the very unwelcome and unjustified efforts in the UK to pass the regressive, so-called Legacy legislation, which will undermine the ability of the victims of the Troubles – and the families of those killed – from seeking truth and justice in the legal system. It is just wrong.”
The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) provided victims with agency through the Human Rights Act (1998) with the ability to use law and the courts to seek accountable justice.
This Bill is an amalgamation of every underhanded tactic deployed since 1998 by the PSNI, MoD and the NIO against families seeking justice through human rights provisions enshrined within the GFA. These tactics range from excessive delay, failure to trace witnesses, the concealment & destruction of evidence, to the widespread use of public interest immunity certificates (gagging orders), and even the use of secret courts in the form of Closed Material Procedures (CMP’s) under the Justice & Security Act (2013). And as if families haven’t endured enough the latter prevents them, and their lawyers, from being present during court hearings about the murder of their loved ones. Like this Bill, that is cruel and inhumane.
This bill is so draconian – so drastic – it is beyond redemption.
No measure of tinkering or amendments will make it acceptable.
It must go. It has no support whatsoever on this island.
The repercussions of this Bill will ripple through generations causing more pain, trauma and anguish. It will entrench divisions for decades to come. Downing Street is tone deaf to this issue and wear only British Army goggles. Talking to them is like pleading with the arsonist to put out a fire. This Bill is the very antitheses of reconciliation, and it is abhorrent not only to use that word in the Bill title, but to also try and tell victims and survivors that it’s for their own good when it is entirely self-serving.
If the UK pass this Bill into law, then the GFA will be seriously undermined, and rights enshrined within it abolished and that is completely unacceptable.
In such a scenario the Irish government, as a co-signatory and guarantor of the GFA, must act in defence of all victims and survivors, across the entire community, and their right to accountable justice.
The Irish government should prepare the ground now for the possibility of an interstate case in Strasbourg against the UK in defence of those rights and the GFA.
An interstate challenge would proceed directly to the European Court without the need for lengthy hearings in local courts that take years to conclude. This is precious time which many ageing relatives don’t have and considering the numbers of grieving relatives that have died waiting on justice due to delaying tactics, such intervention would be a humanitarian act.