The British government has been accused of using the cover of the Coronavirus health crisis to renege on its commitments under the 2014 Stormont House Agreement and introduce an effective amnesty for most state war crimes.
A statement delivered today in the House of Commons by British Direct Ruler Brandon Lewis abandons London’s commitments to hold independent investigations of state killings. He set out legislation so that most unsolved cases would be closed.
The proposed new law would prevent those investigations from ever being re-opened.
Mark Thompson from the Relatives for Justice campaign group accused London of abusing phraseology associated with the peace process to cloak a “malign” intent.
“The statement is disingenuous and insulting to families who have been denied justice since the killings of their loved ones,” he said.
“It is clear in this statement that the British government is trying to get away scot free from its role in the conflict. This will be resisted and challenged.”
Lewis announced today that “only cases in which there is a realistic prospect of a prosecution, as a result of new compelling evidence, would proceed to a full police investigation and if necessary, prosecution. The likelihood of justice in most cases may now be small and continues to decrease as time passes.”
The proposal will scrap the Historical Inquiries Unit (HIU), a key element of the 2014 Stormont House Agreement for addressing the legacy of the past conflict. A single new body will emphasise information recovery rather than securing justice. It is believed the move will require changes to existing British human rights legislation.
The 26 County Tanaiste Simon Coveney warned any significant changes to the Stormont House Agreement must be discussed and agreed by both governments and the political parties in Belfast.
“Any approach has to be coherent across both jurisdictions,” he said.
Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill said the proposals break the Stormont House Agreement and would cause hurt and anger among families who lost loved ones during the conflict.
“What is being proposed now is not the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement as committed to in the New Decade, New Approach document, nor is it fully human rights compliant.
“It is a unilateral move by the British government to rewrite the Stormont House Agreement without consulting the political parties or the Irish government. The Legacy structures agreed cannot be cherry picked.”
She concluded: “There can be no hierarchy of victims and no one, including British State Forces, can be above the law.”