A pledge by the leader of the British opposition, Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, to repeal the Tory government’s controversial legacy legislation has been widely welcomed.
The commitment by the Labour leader, who appears likely to become the next British Prime Minister in 2025, came during a visit to Belfast.
Previously a human rights lawyer, Starmer was asked about the British government’s “Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill”, which is set to bring a halt to a range of legal processes in order to draw a veil over British war crimes.
When asked after a lecture in Belfast if he would repeal the legislation, the Labour leader said he would.
Starmer, who has worked at the office of the north’s Policing Board, said he had engaged with “many victims and victims’ representatives” and that the legislation was “wrong in principle”.
“But, worse than that, or alongside that, no government in Westminster, in my view, should ever introduce legislation which has no support from any of the political parties in Northern Ireland, and no support from the victims who are at the heart of this,” he said.
“I think that previous governments - Labour and Conservative - would have understood that, and it shows you how far this Conservative Government in recent years has moved from a genuine understanding of the principles and values of the Good Friday Agreement, that they would even countenance introducing legislation with zero political support here and zero support from the victims.”
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly said the British government should “scrap the flawed legacy bill”.
“This reckless legislation is being rushed through and ignores opposition from victims and families, political parties, human rights experts and now the British Labour Party,” he said.
“The commitment given today in Belfast by the leader of the British opposition that he would repeal what is clearly an unjust piece of legislation is welcome.”
The legislation imposes a deadline on the decades-long campaigns of families seeking to expose cover-ups and finally secure justice for their loved ones.
Among those are County Armagh peace campaigner Eugene Reavey, who has serious concerns that the killers of his three brothers will never be brought before the courts.
No-one has ever been charged with the murders of John Martin (24), Brian (22) and 17-year-old Anthony Reavey, who were gunned down in a targeted attack at their parents’ home in Whitecross, south Armagh in January 1976. Their killers were members of the notorious Glennane Gang, which included British soldiers, members of the police and UVF paramilitaries.
Legal proceedings will not begin until former English police chief Jon Boutcher releases the findings of his investigation.
“We have to wait until that report comes back,” said Mr Reavey. “It’ll be a very damning indictment, but we might never get to it if the legacy bill goes ahead.”
He added that “if they get it through, that would be the end of the Jon Boutcher inquiry”.