Victims’ groups have hit out a British government reworking of a planned amnesty plan as a “sinister denial of rights”.
Restyling its initial proposal for a blanket immunity from prosecution, full immunity will now only be available to those who co-operate with an opaque, state-controlled ‘information retrieval’ process.
Aspects of the new plan were outlined this week in the ‘Queen’s Speech’, a statement by the English Crown of its government plans, delivered by a royal in full imperial regalia with accompanying pomp and ceremony.
There were few details but it is clear the plan remains to ‘draw a line’ in order to bring an end to prosecutions, inquests and other legal processes which have increasingly revealed the scale of collusion and other war crimes perpetrated by Britain throughout the conflict.
Victims representatives reacted negatively to what has so far been revealed so far about Britain’s immunity-for-information plan. The head of Relatives for Justice, Mark Thompson, described it as “self-serving” and detrimental to victims.
“This proposed Bill is specifically designed to remove the rights of all victims to effective independent investigation, remedy, accountability and ultimately justice,” he said.
“It significantly undermines the rule of law, rights and entitlements enshrined not only within the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), but also international law.”
He said that in the two decades since the Good Friday Agrement, successive British governments and their agencies had done “everything in their power” to thwart the application of the rule of law in order to shield their State from exposure of their role in the conflict.
“This proposed Bill places the British government in control of a deeply flawed process by which they alone determine who to punish, attribute blame, and continue its programme of anonymity and impunity, all this whilst lecturing victims that this is in their best interests.
“This is typically self-serving and primarily in the interests of privileging State perpetrators and their agents. Overall however this proposed Bill privileges all perpetrators to the detriment of victims and their rights.
“The British government has once again opted to abandon its agreement on legacy with the Irish government and all the executive parties by acting unilaterally.
“Victims of all persuasions and from all backgrounds will once again look to the Irish government, Irish-America, the Council of Europe and the UN to uphold their legal rights secured by the GFA and stand up to the UK government by rejecting this outrageous proposed Bill.”
Sinn Féin First Minister-elect Michelle O’Neill said the approach set out was not the way to deal with the past.
“We must deal with the past so we don’t burden today’s generation with that, we must deal with the past to give people the closure they need, and I am very certain the way to do that is not to give impunity and immunity to British serving forces here,” she said.
“I am very certain we need a proper way to deal with the past that gives people what they need and the British government approach I am quite sure will not reflect what is needed here.”
‘NO REASON’ TO TRUST
Meanwhile, Irish language activists have reacted with scepticism to the inclusion of legislation for Irish language rights in the same speech.
Paula Melvin of Irish language body Conradh na Gaeilge said they have been here “many, many times before” and called for a date for delivery.
“The British government originally gave the commitment to introduce an Irish language act in the Saint Andrew’s agreement in 2006,” she said.
“British Secretary of State Brandon Lewis gave a public commitment in June 2021 to bring in the Irish language legislation by October.
“That timeline was missed and pushed out to the end of the mandate. That deadline was also missed.
“Our painful experience on this issue is that commitments have been made in the past and have never been fulfilled.
“Naturally, therefore, we take today’s announcement with a huge degree of caution.
“We need a date for delivery. We need to see the legislation timetabled into the parliamentary diary.
“Until there is a specific date for implementing Irish language legislation we have no reason to trust the British government when it comes to language rights. Now is the time for delivery.”