Troubles amnesty would not be acceptable in any modern democracy, MLAs told

Posted By: July 20, 2021

David Young, Jonathan McCambridge and Rebecca Black, PA. Irish News. Belfast.  July 29, 2021


A proposed ban on Troubles prosecutions would not be acceptable in any other modern democracy in the world, the Stormont Assembly has been told.


MLAs returned from summer recess today for an emergency sitting to debate the British Government’s controversial plan to introduce a statute of limitations on crimes committed during the Northern Ireland conflict.


SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon tabled a motion calling on all Stormont parties to unite in opposition to the proposals outlined by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis last week.


Opening the debate, Ms. Mallon accused the government of attempting to sweep victims’ pain under the carpet.


She said the proposals would let “perpetrators – state and paramilitary – walk free and instead condemn the victims and their families to a lifetime of pain and suffering through the denial of hope, truth, and justice”.


Ms. Mallon branded the proposals a “unilateral move” by the UK Government to deliver a “Tory party answer to a problem created by that same party and its backbench MPs”.


“Backbenchers who have created a bogus myth that an endless parade of veterans is being dragged through the courts here to answer for their past. When the fact is that is not true,” she said.


“Rather than debunk the myth and deal in facts, Boris Johnson and Brandon Lewis have decided to cruelly abandon victims and survivors as they play to the gallery.”


As the debate took place in Belfast, some victims of terrorism gathered in London with a plan to travel to Downing Street to hand over a letter indicating their opposition to what has been described as a de facto amnesty.


Mr. Lewis announced last week that he intends to introduce legislation to create a proposed statute of limitations that would end all prosecutions for incidents up to April 1998 and would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries.


The proposals, which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said would allow Northern Ireland to “draw a line under the Troubles”, would also end all legacy inquests and civil actions related to the conflict.


But the plan has been heavily criticized by all the main political parties in Northern Ireland as well as the Irish Government, and a range of victims’ and survivors’ groups.


Ms Mallon said the amnesty proposal had devastated and retraumatized survivors and bereaved families.


“It hasn’t drawn a line. It has made the situation worse,” she said.


The Stormont minister added: “No one here wants to return to the past. Certainly, no one wants to relive the destruction of those dark days. But for the victims and survivors of the Troubles, that is not a choice they have. Every day, they live with the horrific pain of the past.


“Yet this British Government, in doing this, is telling families that their loved one’s life didn’t matter, that their lives, their families’ loss isn’t worthy enough to be properly investigated in a process with integrity.


“It is disgusting and, Mr. Speaker, it would not be acceptable in any other modern democracy in the world – and it cannot, and must not, be deemed acceptable here.”


Ms. Mallon said victims were “realistic” about the chances of successful prosecutions over decades-old crimes.


“They know no one can honestly promise justice to them,” she told MLAs.


“But no-one morally can or should be allowed to deny them justice; to extinguish the hope they are entitled to have.”


Ms. Mallon urged all Stormont parties to unite in their opposition to the amnesty and work together to develop an agreed way forward on dealing with the past.


She said a failure to do so in recent years had created the opportunity for the UK Government to step in and propose the statute of limitations.


Ms. Mallon urged parties to recommit to the stalled 2014 Stormont House Agreement proposals, which included an independent investigations unit.


“This move by the British Government has to be a wake-up call, we should never have needed this wake-up call, but we now need to act before it is too late,” she said.