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UK plans law to offer amnesty to perpetrators of the Troubles


The UK government will on Tuesday introduce legislation to offer an amnesty from prosecution to some perpetrators of attacks during Northern Ireland’s Troubles after rowing back from controversial plans to introduce blanket immunity.

Brandon Lewis, secretary of state for Northern Ireland, said in a statement: “The current system is failing; it is delivering neither truth nor justice for the vast majority of families. It is letting down victims and veterans alike.”

The government signalled in last week’s Queen’s Speech that it had listened to criticism and was amending its initial plans to draw a judicial line under the violence of the Troubles. These had drawn widespread condemnation from victims, rights groups and politicians across the island and in the US.

Now, immunity from prosecution will only be offered to those who co-operate with an independent commission conducting investigations into the three decades-long conflict involving republicans fighting to oust British rule, loyalists battling to remain in the UK, and British security forces.

But some relatives of victims feared that their lengthy attempts to obtain justice would still end up being swept under the carpet.

Some protesters booed and displayed a model of a coffin emblazoned with the words “Justice”, “RIP Truth and RIP Human Rights” as UK prime minister Boris Johnson arrived at Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland on Monday for talks with local political leaders.

The government said that Tuesday’s Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill would “provide families with answers, deliver on commitments to those who served in Northern Ireland and help society to look forward”.

The government also aims to commission independent historians to write an official history of the Troubles.

“Every family who lost a loved one, no matter who they were, will be provided with more information than ever before about the circumstances of their death,” Lewis promised. “There will not be any automatic access to immunity,” he said.

But human rights advocacy group Amnesty International has branded the plan a “worrying interference in the rule of law” that could put both paramilitaries and state security forces beyond justice.

John Teggart, who was 11 when his father was shot 14 times in 1971 by British forces in what was dubbed the Ballymurphy massacre, remained unimpressed. He feared that other people could be denied the process that led to the 10 Ballymurphy victims being declared “entirely innocent” after a series of inquests last year. Johnson apologised “unreservedly” for the events that led to their deaths.

“It’s down to one thing and one thing only — to protect the ex-vets [former British soldiers] and those who were in the government at the time,” Teggart told the Financial Times outside Hillsborough Castle.

Tony Gargan said his sister Margaret was shot by British forces aged 13 in 1972, and a coroner had returned an open verdict after hearing claims that she was aged 20 and had been carrying a gun. “Now Boris is coming along and stopping inquests — how would that help my sister?” he said.



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