President speaks out against legacy bill

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Irish President Michael D Higgins has said that nobody who has suffered from the conflict in Ireland wants to see an immunity from prosecution for those responsible.

His remarks, following an address to the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, were an unusual intervention from the President, who normally refrains from directly addressing political issues.

The Tories are currently advancing legislation at Westminster which provides for an amnesty for killer soldiers and others involved in war crimes in the north of Ireland. However, the plans have been strongly criticised by the Dublin Government and by all political parties in Ireland, north and south.

President Higgins was taking questions from members of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe which oversees the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.

He told members: “I am a non-executive president and I am reminded occasionally by our people about that” – but went on to sharply criticise the British plans for an amnesty.

He said nobody in the North, from whatever community, “want a blanket immunity for those who were responsible”.

He spoke out as actor Ciaran Hinds also urged British prime minister Liz Truss to ditch the legacy Bill.

Mr Hinds wrote an open letter to Ms Truss warning that the Bill would “permanently cut off any prospect of justice” for bereaved families. The film star has urged a rethink on the Bill which he says victims of the conflict are “unanimously” opposed to.

“For the many families who lost loved ones that chapter is not closed, and cannot be, without the healing that only real justice can bring,” the Belfast-born actor wrote.

“The rule of law must apply to everyone, without favour. No one, whether a state or non-state actor, should be above the law.

“I stand with the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, partners and grandparents of the victims, and all those who are united in strong opposition to your proposals set out in the legacy Bill to permanently deny Troubles victims paths to justice.

“Victims deserve the same access to justice whether in Belfast or Bristol, Derry or Durham.”

Mr Hinds raised the killing of 12-year-old Majella O’Hare, who was shot in the back by a British soldier, noting that her brother Michael has been “fighting for 44 years for the independent investigation to which they are entitled”.

He concluded the letter writing: “Everyone is entitled to justice.”

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