Colum Eastwood: "This British Government has abandoned the concept of partnership when it comes to the sensitive politics of Northern Ireland."
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MP has described the British Government’s decision to unilaterally push ahead with new legacy legislation as an egregious dereliction of duty following opposition from victims and survivors, political parties and the Irish Government to precious proposals.
Of the new proposed legislation announced by the UK Government under the name of “The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill”, a main component involves immunity from prosecution for those who co-operate with investigations run by a new information recovery body.
Foyle MP Eastwood stated that it is incredible that the government would move to publish legislation which will deny victims and survivors their right to judicial process in relation to the murder of their loved ones without first speaking to representatives in Northern Ireland.
He said: “This British Government has abandoned the concept of partnership when it comes to the sensitive politics of Northern Ireland.
“What they’re about to do regarding the Protocol is unacceptable but to take unilateral action on an issue as sensitive as legacy investigations over the heads of victims and survivors, political parties and the Irish Government is unbelievable.
“In their rush to protect former soldiers they will shut down routes to justice through inquests and civil cases, shield paramilitary killers and fundamentally alter the rights of those who have lost loved ones. All without a serious conversation with those most affected.
“Boris Johnson is preparing to tear up yet another agreement that the British Government entered into willingly.
“The people who will lose the most from this new process are those who have already paid the worst price for the failure to deal with the legacy of our past. This is no way to treat victims and the SDLP will oppose it.”
Also opposing the legislation are The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) who has called for it to be scrapped in favour of the prior proposals in the Stormont House Agreement.
The CAJ is highly critical of a number of aspects of the Bill, including the scope of the new legacy body, which will carry out ‘reviews’ rather than investigations. They also fear that, under current proposals, the Secretary of State will in practice decide who gets immunity from prosecution.
As such, the CAJ believes the proposals within the Bill fail to honour the UK’s obligation under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to carry out proper investigations into deaths and serious injuries that occurred during The Troubles.
Brian Gormally, Director of the CAJ, said: “The first problem with this Bill comes right at the beginning in the Secretary of State’s declaration that it is compatible with European Convention rights.
“It is not – the Bill drives a coach and horses through the obligation for a proper, independent, investigation into suspicious deaths, especially where the state may be involved. This is the law of the land, enshrined in the Human Rights Act, itself a product of the Good Friday Agreement.
“The Bill only speaks of ‘reviews’ – not investigations. The new body will have limited powers and will only effectively get information that the various agencies want it to have.
“Civil actions and inquests that have not reached an ‘advanced stage’ will be discontinued, thus depriving victims of the information that these routes can bring.
“The much-criticised blanket amnesty has been dropped but only to be replaced by a theoretically conditional amnesty, but one which is still deliberately skewed to favour state agents.
“The legally qualified immunity requests panel will nominally take decisions on who gets amnesty, but it ‘must take into account’ guidance on suitability from the Secretary of State.
“We can be certain that state agents will be safe from prosecution. Anyone who has a troubles related conviction will not even be able to make a valid application for immunity and so will have no incentive to give information. That means that the victims of non-state violence will not get the truth they deserve.
“The Stormont House Agreement envisaged an independent mechanism to oversee work on oral history and the broader themes and patterns of the conflict.
“Under this legislation, the Secretary of State himself would direct such work. He would, for example, oversee thematic work on issues such as collusion, shoot to kill or torture. This beggars belief.
“The government should scrap this Bill and return to the already agreed structure of the Stormont House Agreement.”
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