Amnesty plans do not have support to ‘proceed legitimately’ – Labour

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Plans to introduce an amnesty on Troubles-era prosecutions have not gathered enough support to “proceed legitimately”, Labour have told the Government.

Shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland Peter Kyle has written to his counterpart, Brandon Lewis, calling on him to abandon the proposals and find a new way of dealing with legacy issues.

Mr Kyle said the current course of action “provides a clear benefit to those who committed acts of terror but none whatsoever to those who suffered at their hands”.

His intervention came following a visit to Belfast, his first as shadow secretary, where he met victims of Troubles violence.

In the letter, seen by the PA news agency, Mr Kyle told Mr Lewis that the plans were “wrong”, “provoking distress” and do not have “even minority support” in Northern Ireland.

He wrote: “Finding ways for Northern Ireland to resolve outstanding legacy issues from the Troubles is a long running and prominent political challenge.

“It is wholly correct that you as Secretary of State should use your position to seek progress in this area.

“It is crystal clear however that your current proposals have failed to garner enough support within Northern Ireland and our international partners to proceed legitimately.

“There is not even minority support from Northern Ireland residents, political parties, human rights organisations or victims’ groups for your proposals.”

In July last year, the Government published a command paper outlining its intention to prohibit future prosecutions of military veterans and ex-paramilitaries for Troubles incidents pre-dating April 1998.

The proposals, which 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.

The proposals are opposed by all the main parties at Stormont, the Irish government and many victims’ groups.

Mr Kyle outlined the strong opposition to the proposals among the victims he met in Belfast.

Time For Truth campaign
The Time For Truth campaign demonstrated outside the courts in Belfast on a national day of action across Ireland against the British Government’s proposals for dealing with the past (Rebecca Black/PA)

“All, to a person, felt that a general amnesty delivered via Westminster without meaningful consultation from victims was wrong and is provoking distress,” he said.

“I met one innocent man who was shot six times and left for dead simply for living next door to someone being targeted.

“He had one interview with police from his hospital bed but has heard nothing in the decades that followed.

“He told me of his willingness to engage in a process that can heal some of the outstanding scars of that time and enable him to resolve himself to the criminal violence committed against him.

“But he also asked me what right someone in Westminster has to pass a law that gives clemency to the person who gunned him down without a shred of input from him, the victim?

“Your current course of action provides a clear benefit to those who committed acts of terror but none whatsoever to those who suffered at their hands. That is wrong.”

Mr Kyle also noted the strong opposition to the plans from the Irish government.

He wrote: “The Republic of Ireland’s government have been forced to condemn these measures publicly.

“Their foreign minister Simon Coveney has said of your proposals ‘the Irish government has been very clear, both privately and publicly, that we cannot support, it would be a big mistake’.

“As you know, public consensus between the UK and RoI on legacy issues has been maintained since the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

“It was a profound misstep to proceed down a path that provoked such a rebuke.”

Mr Kyle said the Labour party will oppose the legislation if it is introduced in the UK Parliament as set out in the command paper.

“To proceed under these circumstances would be irresponsible and highly destabilising to an already fragile political settlement within Northern Ireland,” he added.

“I request that you now officially pause the process and withdraw your commitment to legislate based on those proposals.

“A new process must begin. Victims must be heard and it is inappropriate to ask them to make concessions via a process from which they are excluded.

“Politicians representing constituencies in Northern Ireland in both the assembly and House of Commons must play an essential role in overcoming the difficulties that have prevented progress before.”

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