Victims’ campaigners have urged the EU to “stand up” to the UK in opposing controversial laws to deal with the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles.
Bereaved relatives called on the EU for support and also asked MEPs to hold a debate in the European Parliament and pass a resolution criticising the Government’s proposed legislative changes.
The Legacy Bill, which is going through its parliamentary stages at Westminster, would see a form of immunity offered to those suspected of killings during the conflict if they agree to co-operate with a new truth recovery body.
It would also prohibit future civil cases and inquests related to Troubles crimes.
A warm welcome to @Europarl_EN to the Truth & Justice movement led by Raymond McCord.
The movement is a cross-community group of victims & campaigners who lost loved ones during the Troubles.
I am hosting their film “The Victims’ Stories” for all MEPs this morning. pic.twitter.com/PUbrTH5Ae6
— Frances Fitzgerald MEP (@FitzgeraldFrncs) January 31, 2023
It has been almost universally opposed by parties across the political divide in Northern Ireland, as well as all victims’ groups. The Irish Government is also opposed to the plan.
The Government has proposed several amendments to the Bill as it proceeds through its legislative stages, though the core elements of it remain.
A film about a number of killings during the Troubles in Northern Ireland was shown to a gathering of MEPs in Brussels on Tuesday.
It came on the same day the Legacy Bill was back on the parliamentary schedule in London for further consideration in the House of Lords.
The film, made by Mobile Media and the Truth and Justice Movement, features eight people who have lost family members in a number of atrocities, including the Omagh bomb, the Ballymurphy massacre and Bloody Sunday.
It has already been shown to parliamentarians at Westminster, members of the Oireachtas parliament in Dublin and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.
Victims’ campaigner Raymond McCord, who attended the screening was part of a campaign of opposition to the UK Government’s controversial plans to deal with the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles.
Mr McCord, whose son Raymond Jnr was killed by loyalist paramilitaries in 1997, said the European Parliament had a reputation for supporting justice and human rights.
“We ask for this shameful legacy/amnesty bill of human rights abuse and cover-up, along with the violation of truth and justice, to be debated in the EU parliament,” he said.
“We ask to speak in front of the 705 MEPs who have been elected to make Europe a better and safer place with equality and human rights for all.
“We need not only a resolution from the EU parliament with full support for our group and victims in total rejection of this bill and the betrayal of victims and justice, we also need the EU to stand up to a British government that has no regard for truth and justice and deals it signs.”
Mr McCord said 3,600 deaths in the Troubles would equate to 1.2 million deaths among the population of the EU.
“Unlike the British government, please stand with us, the victims not the murderers,” he urged MEPs.
“Remember the children blown up with bombs and shot in the head, the women raped and murdered, men and women murdered in front of their families, men lined up and riddled with bullets, the sectarian murder gangs and imagine if it was your own son, daughter or mother or father being buried in a closed coffin because of their horrific injuries.
“This film clearly shows the pain and injustice inflicted on thousands of victims.
“Who are those in this EU parliament who believes that murder is a crime unlike what this Bill proposes?
“Who are those in this EU parliament see justice as paramount to democracy?
“Our murdered family members must be respected by the EU parliament by rejecting this Bill not only in this parliament but in the European courts.
“We believe that not one MEP would support this Bill.
“Whether it’s one murder or 3,600 murders, the EU parliament has a choice, solidarity with victims or complicit in washing their hands of truth, justice and human rights.
“No sectarian agenda, no political agenda, only truth and justice.”
Irish MEP Frances Fitzgerald said: “This is a hugely important and heartbreaking film which gives voice to the trauma of the families of some of those murdered during the Troubles, on both sides.
“It shows how important it is to speak up in opposition to the proposals before the UK Parliament, which would prevent the perpetrators from being prosecuted.
“Such a proposal is outrageous and devastating for families seeking justice.
“The Irish Government and all parties in Leinster House have been very clear in their opposition to this proposed legislation.
“Now this campaign is coming to the European Parliament and I encourage all my colleagues from all member states to come and see the film and show their support for the campaigners.”
Irish senator Emer Currie praised the victims for bringing their campaign to Brussels.
“This is a really important day for victims,” she said.
“They continue to grow their campaign against the Legacy Bill, which has been criticised and condemned by everyone from the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to members of US Congress.
“Today the victims bring their personal and powerful stories of loss and trauma to the European Parliament, with the message that international human rights obligations must be upheld and we all have a role in ensuring that.”
A Northern Ireland Office spokesperson said the Government is determined to “deliver better outcomes for those most affected by the Troubles, while helping society to look forward”.
He added: “The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy & Reconciliation) Bill will establish an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery to conduct reviews into Troubles-related deaths and serious injury, with the primary objective of providing information to families, and victims and survivors.
“The commission will have all the necessary powers to conduct criminal investigations as part of any review, ensuring compliance with the Government’s international obligations under the ECHR.
“The Government has tabled a number of amendments during committee stage in the House of Lords that seek to address a number of key issues raised by stakeholders.
“We will continue to engage constructively with all interested parties, and to carefully consider how their concerns might be addressed as the Bill proceeds through Parliament.
“The Secretary of State and Lord Caine are both grateful to have previously had the opportunity to watch The Victims’ Stories film, which is a powerful example of why we must deliver better outcomes for all those directly affected by the Troubles.”