Government proposal to end all Troubles prosecutions widely criticised

·4-min read

A government proposal to end all Troubles prosecutions has been widely criticised.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis confirmed well trailed reports of a proposed statute of limitations which would end all prosecutions up to April 1998.

It would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries.

Northern Ireland Troubles
Family members of Ballymurphy massacre victims (left to right) Eileen McKeown, daughter of Joseph Corr, Mary Corr, daughter in law of Joseph Corr, and Irene Connolly, daughter of Joan Connolly at Springhill Community House in Belfast, watching Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis in the House of Commons (Brian Lawless/PA)

The proposals, described by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as allowing Northern Ireland to “draw a line under the Troubles”, would also end all legacy inquests and civil actions related to the conflict.

It is not known what impact the proposals could have on cases currently in the legal system.

There are around 40 legacy inquests at hearing, an estimated 1,000 civil cases as well as eight ongoing prosecutions.

These include the prosecution of John Downey in relation to the murder of UDR soldiers Alfred Johnston and James Eames in 1972 and former soldier Dennis Hutchings in relation to the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham in 1974.

The proposals outlined by Mr Lewis on Wednesday also include a new truth recovery body and an oral history initiative.

The Government is set to consult with political parties and victim groups before introducing legislation in the autumn.

Mr Lewis told the Commons: “We know that the prospect of the end of criminal prosecutions will be difficult for some to accept and this is not a position we take lightly.

“But we’ve come to the view that this is the best and only way to facilitate an effective information retrieval and provision process, and the best way to help Northern Ireland move further along the road to reconciliation.

“It is in reality a painful recognition of the very reality of where we are.”

Political parties and bereaved families have criticised the statute of limitations as a “de facto amnesty”.

Irish prime minister Micheal Martin said the proposals were “wrong for many, many reasons”.

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DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the statute of limitation “would be rejected by everyone in Northern Ireland who stands for justice and the rule of law”.

Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill accused the UK of introducing an amnesty “to protect state forces from their ‘dirty role’ in Ireland”.

The relatives of one of the 10 killed by soldiers in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in 1971 have vowed to mount a legal challenge to the proposals.

Eileen McKeown, daughter of Joseph Corr, said the proposals “will not be tolerated and will be legally challenged”.

“The Ballymurphy Massacre inquest findings show how the law should work independently,” she said.

“All victims need to know the truth, they need to know what happened to their loved ones.

“We all bleed the same blood so everybody needs truth and justice and then maybe they can start living their lives.

“We spent 50 years trying to prove that our loved ones were innocent, there are loads of families out there like us and they all need to know the same thing.”

Speaking earlier during Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson said: “The people of Northern Ireland must, if we possibly can allow them to, move forwards now.

Prime Minister’s Questions
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the proposals will allow the people of Northern Ireland to move forward (House of Commons/PA)

The Prime Minister added: “The sad fact remains that there are many members of the armed services who continue to face the threat of vexatious prosecutions well into their 70s, 80s and later, and we’re finally bringing forward a solution to this problem, to enable the province of Northern Ireland to draw a line under the Troubles, to enable the people of Northern Ireland to move forward.

“I think someone with greater statesmanship and clarity of vision would have seen that and given these proposals a fair wind.”

More than 3,500 people died during the Northern Ireland Troubles, which stretched from the early 1970s to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement in 1998, while tens of thousands more were injured.

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