Troubles Legacy Bill: victims' groups make eleventh hour plea for government U-turn

Images of victims of the Northern Ireland Troubles which were projected onto the Houses of Parliament in London. Amnesty International/PA Wire (Photo: Amnesty International/PA Wire)
Images of victims of the Northern Ireland Troubles which were projected onto the Houses of Parliament in London. Amnesty International/PA Wire (Photo: Amnesty International/PA Wire)

With the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill set to return to the House of Lords on Tuesday, a number of victims’ groups have again spoken out – calling for Downing Street to scrap the Bill.

When the Bill becomes law, only those Troubles prosecutions, inquests and civic actions which are currently ongoing will continue.

In relation to prosecutions, the new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) will be able to refer cases for prosecution in cases where immunity is not granted and sufficient evidence exists.

In relation to inquests, those that have not concluded by May 1, 2024 will be referred to the ICRIR.

Civil actions that were brought before the Bill was introduced are unaffected by the Bill, which places a bar only on new civil claims (after the date of introduction)

The Bill will give immunity from prosecution to people who co-operate with the ICRIR.

All of the main political parties in Northern Ireland, the Irish Government and victims' groups are opposed to the new legislation.

SEFF director Kenny Donaldson said the Bill is not designed to place “victims and survivors at the heart of the process,” and added: “The conditional immunity provisions are likely to have the impact of disempowering the very people it is supposed to be in support of, due to the fact that any victim/survivor who engages with the ICRIR structure will then be complicit with any immunity granted the perpetrator.

"We remain to be convinced that there will be any meaningful teeth to stop perpetrators from waxing lyrical concerning their violent pasts for the purpose of finance an ideological gain.”
Mr Donaldson said that although it remains unclear when the Bill will finally become law, “most are now accepting that the Bill is likely to secure passage and Royal Assent by early-mid October”.

He said: "Legal challenges will of course follow and there is some suggestion that the Irish Government may take an Interstate case against the UK, but whether that proves a viable proposition for a State who are said to have operated a moratorium on pre 1998 'Troubles' cases – as per the former justice minister's (Michael McDowell) public statements – is highly questionable.

"Even at this late stage we appeal with the UK Government to examine the ramifications of progressing this Bill and the message it sends to terrorism and to those within the State's apparatus who committed criminal-based activity.”

Ahead of the Bill being returned to the Lords, images of several Troubles victims were projected onto the Houses of Parliament in London by Amnesty International.

At the weekend, Amnesty projected the images of some victims who have still to receive justice.

The images included Majella O'Hare, 12, who was shot dead by a soldier in Co Armagh, Tom Oliver, a 43-year-old farmer who was murdered by the IRA; and the three Reavey brothers – aged between 17 and 24 – who were murdered by loyalists in 1975.

Amnesty’s Grainne Teggart said: "This is a hugely significant week for the legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict and victims' rights as the UK Government recklessly pursues a Bill that only it supports”.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has previously said the Bill provides the best opportunity for the families of Troubles victims who have gone decades without any information, to receive answers about what happened to their loved ones.