Talks offer in Troubles amnesty row amid calls to ditch legislation

·4-min read
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill is in the House of Lords (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Archive)
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill is in the House of Lords (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Archive)

A Northern Ireland minister has offered to hold talks with critics of a controversial legal move to offer an effective amnesty for Troubles crimes.

Lord Caine said he was “very happy” to meet with victims’ groups, politicians and the Irish government to see if there were ways the proposed legislation could be improved.

The Tory frontbencher also told Parliament he was ready to consider any change put forward.

The Conservative peer struck the conciliatory tone as he faced calls by two Labour former Northern Ireland secretaries to rethink the legacy plans, including ditching them all together.

The contentious Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill has already been through the Commons and now heads to the Lords.

These are very difficult matters but I am very happy to meet victims' groups, political parties, the Irish government and members of the Lords to see if there are ways in which the Bill can be improved

Lord Caine

It proposes a new approach to dealing with the bloody period, with more focus on truth recovery rather than criminal justice.

It would provide the promise of immunity from prosecution for perpetrators who agree to provide information to a new truth body and move to end conflict-related civil cases and inquests.

Speaking at Westminster, Labour former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Murphy of Torfaen said: “Since very victim group in Northern Ireland, the Irish government, every single political party in Northern Ireland disagrees with this Bill, isn’t it time to go back to the new secretary of state, rethink the Bill and preferably abandon it all together?”

Responding, Lord Caine said: “As he will know from his time in office, finding consensus around legacy and the past is incredibly difficult, and has eluded successive governments.

“These are very difficult matters but I am very happy to meet victims’ groups, political parties, the Irish government and members of the Lords to see if there are ways in which the Bill can be improved.”

Labour peer Lord Hain, who also served as Northern Ireland secretary, called on the Government to adopt the approach taken by the independent cold-case initiative called Operation Kenova, that is investigating a series of killings from the conflict.

He said: “Lamentably, the Government’s current amnesty provisions, because that’s what they are, favour perpetrators of atrocities over the needs of victims.”

Lord Hain argued the proposed legislation neither offered potential justice nor upheld the rule of law and urged ministers to think again.

Lord Hain called on ministers to think again about the legislation (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Archive)
Lord Hain called on ministers to think again about the legislation (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Archive)

Lord Caine said: “I am always prepared to look at any amendment on its merits and give due consideration.”

Former police ombudsman for Northern Ireland Baroness O’Loan said: “How does the minister view the Troubles Legacy Bill, which will prevent anybody whose loved one died as a result of the Troubles’ terrorism, whether in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, from being able to have an inquest, from bringing any civil action for damages, and even from having a proper investigation, which will lead to a prosecution?

“Can the minister explain how this is consistent with the rule of law of which we are so proud in the United Kingdom?”

Lord Caine said: “What the Government is really trying to focus on is moving towards a more information recovery-based approach to legacy cases, which will hopefully allow victims to access more information in much quicker time than would be the case with long, drawn-out prosecutions.”

Tory peer Lord Robathan, a former SAS officer, said: “Does the minister agree that there can never be any moral equivalence between those that were sent by Parliament to defend the rule of law – who sometimes made mistakes but they were under a huge amount of pressure – and those who went illegally with weapons to do murder and cause mayhem?”

Lord Caine said: “There is no moral equivalence between those who set to uphold the rule of law and defend democracy, and those who sought to destroy both.”

Paying tribute to the members of the now disbanded Royal Ulster Constabulary and the armed forces, he added: “Of course mistakes were made, but overall it is a record of which they and we can be very proud.”

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