Victims of British state atrocities in the north of Ireland have made clear their opposition to Tory plans to ban legal actions related to the killings.
Several victims groups held meetings with British officials at Stormont this week, including the Pat Finucane Centre, who walked out of their meeting after only ten minutes in protest.
British Direct Ruler Brandon Lewis announced last week that he intends to introduce legislation to create a statute of limitations which would end all judicial processes for ‘Troubles’ incidents.
The proposals, which British prime minister Boris Johnson said would allow him to “draw a line” under the conflict, would end all police investigations, prosecutions, legacy inquests and civil actions against current and former members of the British Crown Forces, as well as against agents, informers, loyalist paramilitaries and republican Volunteers.
But the amnesty plan has been heavily criticised by all the main political parties in Ireland as well as the Dublin government, as well as a range of victims’ and survivors’ groups.
The Pat Finucane Centre, which represents many families bereaved by state violence, cut short their meeting after ten minutes in protest at a claim by the British government that the vast majority of the state killings during the conflict were “lawful”
In a statement, the group said: “The PFC was invited to the meeting today with the NIO solely because we represent bereaved families.
“Some lost relatives at the hands of the ‘security forces’.
“In all conscience, therefore, we were unable to continue the meeting until the NIO has clarified its source for the ‘lawful’ claim which exculpates the killers from any legal blame.
“We are willing, indeed anxious, to discuss the British government’s current proposals on legacy which we find totally unacceptable and which, we believe, breach common law, international law, the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.
“But, in all conscience, and out of respect for the families we represent, we feel unable to do so until London has, at least, either produced evidence to back up its claim in the Command Paper (the document that set out the statute of limitation proposals) or agrees to withdraw it.”
The position of the Dublin government remains ambivalent.
On Wednesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin warned it would be “challenging” to convince the British government to reverse its plan but called for justice “at the end of the day”.
He said his government, and the processes which had ben agreed to deal with the legacy of the conflict, had been bypassed by the British move.
However, his own government continues to block legal efforts to uncover the truth on atrocities ranging from the 1998 Omagh bombing to the 2006 murder of Sinn Fein double-agent Denis Donaldson.
“There has to be engagement, and there has to be consensus building,” he said.
The plan was unanimously rejected by the Stormont Assembly on Tuesday.
The SDLP’s Deputy leader Nichola Mallon said the amnesty proposal had “devastated and retraumatised” survivors and bereaved families.
She branded the proposals a move by the London government to deliver a “Tory party answer to a problem created by that same party and its backbench MPs”.
“Backbenchers who have created a bogus myth that an endless parade of veterans are being dragged through the courts here to answer for their past. When the fact is that is not true,” she said.
“Rather than debunk the myth and deal in facts, Boris Johnson and Brandon Lewis have decided to cruelly abandon victims and survivors as they play to the gallery.”
Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill said the legacy proposals “deny all families their rights”.
“The British political system cannot handle the truth,” she told MLAs. “The British government fears the bravery, the courage and resilience of the families.”
Ms O’Neill added: “The British State have nowhere else to turn and rather than face up to their human rights obligations to victims, they are now poised to wreck havoc on the legal system here rather than face up to the consequences of their dirty war.
“The legacy proposals to deny families any legal redress to justice is a statement of moral bankruptcy.
“The British government approach is cynical because they’re seeking to insulate their forces from legal challenges by shutting down the established legal options that are open to families.
“Today we must send a very clear message that any political attempts to interfere in live and pending legal proceedings will be resisted by everyone across this House.”
Ms O’Neill added that Brandon Lewis’s legacy proposals go “way beyond an amnesty for British soldiers into political interference with due legal process in respect to the halting of legacy inquests, judicial reviews, civil cases or prosecution cases involving British soldiers already before the courts.
“It actually places the British government to the right of Pinochet’s military dictatorship in Chile”.
She said the proposals protected those in uniform as well as those in suits.
“They are about protecting those in the upper echelons of the British political, military and intelligence world who designed, who facilitated and who covered up the policy and practise of British state terrorism involving state killings, torture practises in the interrogation centres, and also who presided over weapons importation and the administrative practises of collusion,” she said.
A rally in Derry was held last Saturday, July 17, to demonstrate the anger in that city over the plan to allow those involved in the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre and other British war crimes to go unpunished.
Those gathered at Derry Free Corner in the Bogside included Liam Wray, whose brother Jim was one of 14 civil rights demonstrators who lost their lives after British paratroopers opened fire on Bloody Sunday.
The event was organised by the Bloody Sunday March Committee (BSMC) and a number of the Bloody Sunday families gathered along with people in support.
Mr Wray said the London government was trying to bring in the new legislation because they were frightened that the truth would be exposed.
“This attempt at stopping prosecutions is not to bring an end to what is happening in this country, it is to cover their asses and that’s the way to put it,” he said.
“It is up to us to say quite clearly to our politicians, it is not a talking shop and this ain’t up for bargain.
“The only way if we are ever to get the full truth, because we know the truth from our side, is the exposing of the military and the security personnel and the only way you are ever going to get that is if you bring them to prosecution.”