Peers urged to reject Northern Ireland legacy bill

Amnesty International said no amendments can save the ‘deeply damaging’ bill.

Rebecca Black
Tuesday 20 June 2023 15:43 BST
The House of Lords, London (PA)
The House of Lords, London (PA) (PA Archive)

Members of the House of Lords have been urged to reject the Government’s Bill aimed at addressing Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill proposes an effective offer of immunity from prosecution for perpetrators of crimes during the Troubles who co-operate with a truth-recovery body.

It would also halt future civil cases and inquests linked to killings during the conflict.

While the Government introduced a number of amendments to the Bill earlier this month, the Stormont parties, Irish government and victims group remain opposed to it.

The Bill has also prompted concerns from the US Congress, the UN high commissioner on human rights, UN special rapporteurs, the Council of Europe commissioner on human rights and the committee of ministers.

As the Bill and recent amendments enter report stage in the House of Lords on Wednesday, Amnesty International has urged peers to reject it.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International UK’s Northern Ireland deputy director, said the UK government should abandon the “deeply damaging Bill”.

“For a bill so widely condemned both at home and on the international stage, it is staggering that the Government are intent on inflicting it on victims and perpetuating their trauma,” she said.

“To add insult to injury, the UK Government’s trailed ‘game-changing’ amendments have only served to worsen the situation for victims.

“No number of amendments will save this Bill.

“Peers must continue to reject the Government’s path to impunity and injustice.

“Victims deserve better, their rights must be protected.”

Michael O’Hare, whose 12-year-old sister Majella O’Hare was shot dead by a British soldier in Co Armagh 45 years ago, said the Bill fails victims.

“When a crime is committed, usually the victim is prioritised, but it is clear the UK Government aren’t prioritising us,” he said.

“Their amendments change nothing: they are still protecting perpetrators who carried out serious acts of wrongdoing.

“We appreciate the strong opposition to date from peers to this bill – and it is vital that continues.

“At every stage, Government should be hearing that this disgraceful bill fails victims.

“Legacy processes should be victim-centred, instead we’re being shamefully let down.”

The UK government has decided to go ahead with the Bill in a way that does not recognise Northern Ireland’s violent past or honour the suffering of victims

Dunja Mijatovic

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic said the UK Government had ignored warnings that the legislation would violate international obligations.

She said: “I have repeatedly warned that the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill would undermine the human rights of victims, as well as truth seeking, reconciliation and justice efforts.

“Despite this, the UK Government has decided to go ahead with the Bill in a way that does not recognise Northern Ireland’s violent past or honour the suffering of victims.

“While the Government has recently published amendments, these leave the fundamental problems with the Bill intact, such as the conditional immunity scheme that would result in impunity for serious human rights violations, the unilateral shutting down of avenues to justice for victims, and questions about the ability of the Independent Commission for Information Recovery to deliver outcomes that would meet human rights standards.”

In a recent letter to US congress members, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris defended the Bill, stating that current mechanisms for dealing with legacy cases in Northern Ireland are providing outcomes to a “very small number of those affected”.

He said: “The UK Government’s Bill will establish an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (Icrir) to conduct reviews into Troubles-related deaths and serious injuries, with the primary objective of providing information to families, victims and survivors who request it.”

The Northern Ireland Secretary added: “In support of its investigative processes, and to help facilitate the provision of information, the independent Commission will be able to offer immunity from prosecution to individuals who cooperate with the Icrir’s inquiries.

“To be absolutely clear, this is not a blanket amnesty for Troubles-related offences.”

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