Legacy ‘bill of shame’ getting rushed into law

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A coffin was carried to Downing Street by relatives of victims of the conflict as protests increased at British government legacy plans which amount to yet another breach of the Good Friday peace Agreement.

A letter was also handed in at 10 Downing Street opposing the hugely controversial legacy bill.

The draft legislation introduced at Westminster has shocked justice campaigners after it went beyond a feared blanket amnesty for war crimes perpetrated by state forces.

The proposed new law appears to specifically discriminate against those with a relevant conflict-related conviction, potentially ruling out former republican political prisoners.

It also refuses an amnesty to those who do not satisfy an official “information recovery” process in an apparent bid to create a sanitised history of the conflict.

The bill also attempts to ensure that civil legal cases can no longer be brought and that inquests will not be heard.

Experts and academics have stated that the legislation is in breach of the Good Friday Agreement and international human rights law.

Daniel Holder of the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) said the bill “is deeply concerning in general” and that “it has added a further layer of ambiguity”. He said the bill is “unworkable, unfixable and unlawful”.

“It is deeply alarming the British government wish to ram it through Westminster without scrutiny.”

Ten relatives of people killed travelled to London to show their opposition to the legislation dubbed the ‘bill of shame’. They held a protest at Parliament Square at Westminster and carried a black coffin to the gates of Downing Street.

Promoting the bill at Westminster, where it is being pushed through a second reading, British Direct Ruler Brandon Lewis said the conflict killings “cast a shadow over all those impacted and wider society.” He insisted the prospect of successful prosecutions is “vanishingly small”.

“And that’s why this legislation does mark a definitive shift in focus to put information recovery for families at its core, in recognition of that.”

Among those who took part in the protest were Mark Kelly, whose 12-year-old sister Carol Ann died after being struck on the head by a plastic bullet fired by a British soldier in May 1981.

“This bill will deny all families who had loved ones killed truth, justice, and accountability, irrelevant of who the perpetrators were,” he said.

“It will close down investigations, inquests, police ombudsman inquiries, and civil cases.”

He said the bill has no support in Ireland.

“These investigative processes are working perfectly well, and to good effect, on behalf of families save for interference by the British government,” he said.

“That is precisely why the British government has unilaterally tabled this amnesty bill despite being fully aware of universal opposition to their amnesty plans. There is no support for this bill whatsoever.”

Alana McShane’s brother Gavin McShane was one of two teenagers who died after being shot by unionist paramilitaries in May 1994.

“This bill is anti-rule of law, anti-human rights, and anti-democratic,” Ms McShane said.

“No matter what way this bill is dressed up it equates to a blanket amnesty. It is perpetrator-centred and perpetrator led. It is anti-victim.”

Mark Thompson of Relatives, who has organised the trip, said human rights are being undermined.

“This bill undermines fundamental human rights enshrined within the Good Friday Agreement and the very institutions that flow from the agreement,” he said.

“Boris Johnston and Brandon Lewis are usurping the powers of the north’s attorney general, the Lord Chief Justice and judiciary in an unprecedented political overreach by a western government into the criminal justice system.

“They are locking down the courts and administration of justice.”

Protests also took place at Guildhall Square in Derry and at British government offices in Belfast city centre.

Campaign groups linked to the Ballymurphy massacre, McGurk’s Bar, and Springhill/Westrock massacre families and others took part part.

At the protest in Guildhall Square in Derry 200 pairs of shoes, each representing a victim of the conflict, were used to spell out on the ground the word ‘No’.

Ciarán Mac Airt of the Time for Truth campaign said the British government’s “unilateral decision to bin the Stormont House Agreement and legislate its bill of shame would embarrass tin-pot dictatorships over the last century”.

Marian Walsh, whose son Damien was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in Belfast in 1993, told the demonstration those responsible for crimes should face prosecution.

“I believe anyone who has done anything wrong in this conflict should be brought to court,” she said.

“They shouldn’t be given an amnesty.

“You can’t give people immunity for the terrible things which happened here.

“So many lives lost and so many people badly injured, you just can’t push that under the carpet and say it didn’t happen.”

Natasha Butler, the granddaughter of Paddy Butler, who was killed by British soldiers in Springhill in west Belfast in 1972, said all victims were united against the “Bill of shame”.

A new inquest into the death of Mr Butler and four others killed in the Springhill shootings is due to begin next year.

His granddaughter told the protest outside the NIO in Belfast that the tabled legislation would “drive a horse and cart” through the human rights of victims.

Ms Butler said the planned inquest had offered families hope of “truth and accountability”.

“Now we see that cruelly and painfully taken away from us by the British government’s legacy Bill,” she said.

“This constitutes a breach of trust and complete disregard to all victims and all families stood here today.

“It has destroyed our hope of establishing the truth surrounding our loved ones’ murders.”

Aontú Deputy Leader, Councillor Denise Mullen branded the bill as a “shameful slap in the face to victims of British State collusion”.

“It is the entitlement, and I’d argue, the duty of the Irish government to use international courts to protect international agreements signed by the British government to stop this conscious, deliberate and egregious violation of law to cover up their crimes.

“The Irish government must show they are willing to stand up for the people of the North not only in words, but in deeds as well.”

The grandson of murdered GAA official Sean Brown also described plans by the British government to end legacy civil cases as “shameful”.

Earlier this month the PSNI apologised for inadequacies in the RUC’s original investigation into Sean Brown’s murder and agreed a settlement with his widow Bridie as part of civil proceedings.

An inquest into his death is scheduled to be heard next year.

Mr Brown’s family were dealt a second blow last October when his son Damian, who was prominent in his family’s campaign for justice and attended around 30 inquest linked hearings, died after a short illness.

His son Daman highlighted his family’s concerns.

“My father Damian travelled up to Belfast for preliminary hearings over 30 times and every single time there were delays and excuses as to why the PSNI and MoD (Ministry of Defence) had not supplied documents,” he said.

“Will they keep delaying this inquest as they have done for 20 years until the new law comes into force?

He said it was “shameful” that other families would be denied the same right to a civil case and an inquest as his family. “If this law is passed reconciliation is the last thing it will bring.”

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