POLITICAL parties in Northern Ireland have renewed calls this week for the British government to scrap its intended Troubles legacy bill – deeming amendments to the bill insufficient.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris published a series of amendments to the proposed new law this month, which is currently proceeding through parliament’s legislative process.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill seeks to limit prosecutions for crimes committed in Northern Ireland during the Troubles period.
The suggested law offers conditional immunity for those who cooperate with a proposed Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), but its critics claim it will block thousands of victims and families from getting truth and justice through the courts.
Among the changes to the proposed legislation, which were revealed on June 8, ongoing criminal investigations and inquests would be allowed to continue until May 2024, to “ensure a smooth transition between the ending of the current mechanisms and the ICRIR taking on full responsibility for dealing with legacy cases”.
Further amendments will require the ICRIR to take reasonable steps to verify the truth of a person’s account as part of their application for immunity.
They also provide the ICRIR with the power to revoke an individual’s immunity if they are “subsequently convicted of terrorism offences or offences connected to terrorism committed after immunity was granted”.
“The Government has consistently stated that it would continue constructive dialogue in order to alleviate concerns and strengthen the Bill,” Mr Heaton-Harris said while announcing the amendments.
“That is why we have published a number of significant amendments that directly address a number of key concerns raised by interested parties.
“This includes amendments on the conduct of reviews, compliance with Convention Rights, the independence of the Commission, conditional immunity, and ongoing legal processes.”
He added: “We remain absolutely committed to making legislative progress so that the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) can be established, and begin delivering better outcomes for those most affected by the Troubles, as swiftly as possible.”
However, parties across Northern Ireland claim the amendments do not go far enough and have called for the propsed bill to be scrapped entirely.
Sinn Féin’s John Finucane claims the Bill shows a “blatant disregard for victims and their families”.
Following a meeting with Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker, the North Belfast MP said: “Today we met with Steve Baker and told him that the British government need to scrap their flawed Legacy Bill.
“The bill shows a blatant disregard for victims and their families and their right to access truth and justice.
“Its proposed amendments are not in full compliance with the British government’s obligation under the European Convention on Human Rights.”
He added: “We told him that the new timeframe for concluding inquests by May 1st next year is cruel, heartless and unprecedented and will make it more difficult for families to have this most basic investigation into the killings of their loved ones.
“This will effectively close the door in the faces of families looking to make progress in a large number of inquests, given the backlog in disclosure by the PSNI and its failure to put resources into this work.
“Instead of rushing through this bill the British government should listen to the victims and survivors and scrap their cruel bill. “
Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) Leader Colum Eastwood has also called for the “broken” legislation to be scrapped, claiming no amendments can fix it.
“The amendments from the British government to their Legacy Bill are no more than an attempt to paper over the cracks of ill-thought out and totally irreparable legislation,” he said.
“This is one of the few issues that unites everyone in the North from political parties to victims’ groups, there is nothing that can be done to make this legislation palatable and we will oppose it at every turn.”
He added: “There can be no hiding place for those who committed the most unspeakable crimes during our troubled past, whether they be state forces or paramilitaries.
“This legislation seeks to provide the British government with an opportunity to cover up their own murky past, while closing down routes to victims and survivors who still hold out hope of attaining truth and justice.
“We need to be strong and united in our opposition to this Bill.
“The only way we are going to deal with our past is through cooperation, engagement and agreement on all sides.
“The British government cannot be allowed to trample over the human rights of victims and survivors.”