Scrap Troubles legacy bill, Belfast actor Ciarán Hinds urges Liz Truss

<span>Photograph: David Fisher/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: David Fisher/Rex/Shutterstock

One of the stars of Kenneth Branagh’s movie Belfast has written to Liz Truss urging her to scrap controversial legislation about unsolved murders during the Northern Ireland Troubles.

In an open letter to the prime minister, Belfast-born Ciarán Hinds told her the proposed laws would “permanently cut off any prospect of justice for the families and loved ones of those killed during the Troubles”.

His intervention comes days after the Irish foreign minister revealed that the UK and Ireland had “blunt, frank and positive” talks about the legislation, which is opposed by all political parties in Northern Ireland including the Democratic Unionist party (DUP).

No date has been set for the return of the Northern Ireland Troubles (legacy and reconciliation) bill, but both sides have agreed to explore options. The government has argued the bill would offer “closure” to victims, but Hinds told Truss: “For the many families who lost loved ones that chapter is not closed, and cannot be, without the healing that only real justice can bring.”

Instead, he told her it would “permanently deny Troubles victims their path to justice”. He said they should have the same rights as citizens anywhere else in the UK.

In his letter he told Truss about the family of 12-year-old Majella O’Hare who was shot in the back by a soldier in 1976 as she was passing an army checkpoint. “Her brother Michael has been fighting for 44 years” for an independent investigation, he said.

A soldier was acquitted of her killing but in 2011 the Ministry of Defence issued an unprecedented apology to her elderly mother, acknowledging that the soldier’s subsequent courtroom explanation of events was “unlikely”.

Hinds’ letter is part of a wider Amnesty UK campaign against the bill.

“It’s never too late to do the right thing. All eyes are on the prime minister’s next move – will her tenure be a departure from this appalling attack on rights or will she shield perpetrators of horrific crimes, at the expense of victims?” said Grainne Teggart, the Northern Ireland deputy programme director of Amnesty UK.

The row over the Troubles bill is one of several political headaches Truss has inherited from Boris Johnson. The government is also facing a rebellion in the House of Lords over the Northern Ireland protocol bill, largely over the prospect that the government would breach international law.

The Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, defended the protocol bill but said he hoped it would be made “redundant” by a negotiated deal with the EU.

Peers opposing the bill proposed a formal “motion of regret” to be added to the bill when it arrives in the House of Lord on Tuesday afternoon for second reading.

Baroness Champman of Darlington will propose the amendment to record the opposition of between 40 and 50 peers at this stage criticising the “unparalled” powers to push through new laws with “little or no parliamentary scrutiny”.

They do not intend to stop the bill at this stage opting to keep their powder dry until the committee stage on 25 October when they are plotting to delay it indefinitely.

The powers in the bill have also been criticised in a new report by experts working with the UK in a Changing Europe thinktank. It concluded that elements of the bill would give “extremely broad powers to ministers” – so-called “super Henry VIII powers” – to change a number of rules including those on trade, subsidies and governance.

Researchers found the proposal to allow businesses the choice of working with the EU or the UK regulatory regime would create “significant uncertainty” for business and trade in Northern Ireland.

“As a piece of legislation, it manages to be both exceptionally far-reaching and strikingly deficient,” said one of the authors, Katy Hayward, a professor of political sociology at Queen’s University Belfast.