Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has written to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and 26 County Taoiseach Leo Varadkar asking that they call an urgent summit on issues dealing the the past conflict.
The Legacy Bill currently being debated at Westminster is intended to bring an end to all investigations, inquests and other legal processes relating to the conflict prior to April 1998.
Ms McDonald called for the planned legislation to be scrapped.
“There are widespread concerns and opposition to British government legacy plans currently being pushed through Westminster,” she said.
“These very real concerns are shared by victims and families, human rights experts, churches, the UN, and senior officials in the EU and US administration and all the political parties on this island.
“The proposed legislation will shut the door on families’ efforts to achieve truth and justice through the courts and give an amnesty to British state forces who killed Irish citizens.”
Speaking in London, she said a joint summit would be an opportunity to work together to deliver an agreed way forward for victims.
“That is the best way to understand the views of all victims and families, to ensure their legal right to truth and justice is upheld and help the process of healing and reconciliation,” she said.
“To create space for that dialogue to take place, I have urged the British government to stop the passage of its unacceptable legacy legislation and convene the summit urgently.”
Only the British Crown Forces and their supporters are in favour of the bill, which would end investigations into British war crimes in the North.
International pressure continues to wade in support of the vast majority in Ireland who oppose it, including most recently the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, who said the bill is incompatible with Britain’s international human rights obligations.
A US Congressional letter to British PM Rishi Sunak last week also expressed concerns about the “dangerous” legislation. A bipartisan letter from 27 members of the US Congress said the legislation would “deny justice to thousands of families” and “conceal the truth of the past”.
Britain’s Direct Ruler in the North of Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, is currently on a five-day visit to the US, where is he expected to hear at first hand the scale of opposition to the plan.
Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy has urged Mr Harris to listen to the US administration.
“The US has also been very clear in its strong opposition to the British government’s flawed Legacy Bill and its negative implications for victims and families and their right to truth and justice. That was reaffirmed in a letter to Rishi Sunak last week,” Mr Murphy said.
He added that Heaton-Harris “must heed the voices of senior figures in the US, and right across Europe, urging his government to scrap the Legacy Bill”.
Relatives of victims staged a protest in Belfast as the oppposition tothe controversial legislation continues to grow.
Sinn Féin MP John Finucane, whose father Pat was killed by loyalist paramilitaries in 1989, told the protest the legislation is ‘unamendable’.
“That’s not just my view, it is the view of many human rights and legal practitioners, academics, human rights organisations and the Irish government,” he said.
“I was in America last week at a round table on legacy, and again it is the international opinion that this legislation is unamendable.
“The British government have been criticised in Europe by the committee of ministers, there are multiple judgments that show what their obligations are but they continue to ignore this, they continue to deny people the very basic rights.
“What the British government is doing is shameful and it is doubly so that they couch this in the language of reconciliation.”
Mr Finucane said he expects legal challenges if the Bill proceeds.
“Nobody wants to do that because it only adds delay into a process for some families who have already been waiting over five decades,” he added.
There was anger among families of the victims at comments by British Defence Minister Ben Wallace who described justice campaigns, which have been frustrated and delayed at every step by British legal tactics, as an inquest “merry-go-round”.
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly described the comments as ‘insulting and disrespectful to victims of the conflict”. He added: “Access to the courts and to due process is a human right.”
Families of some of those shot dead by the British Army in the Springhill-Westrock massacre took part a talk in Derry this week as part of the 51st anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre, in which the British Army murdered 14 innocent civilians during a civil rights march in the city.
Natasha Butler whose grandfather Patrick Butler was killed, said “It’s all families who are being denied truth and accountability which no government should be getting involved in politically and closing down the avenue of truth.
“It’s removing your basic human rights and if this bill comes into effect it will set people back generations. The legacy mechanisms at the present are working. The inquests are working, the only people the inquests aren’t working for at the minute is the British government. Their bill is about protecting veterans, not victims. It’s not victim-centred.
“The Ballymurphy case frightened the British government. These inquests are giving people the truth and giving people reconciliation and healing which they’ve been denied for over 50 years. We’re in our 51st year, we’ve been denied truth and we’ve had to face barriers and obstacles which they’ve put in our way.
“There are over 20 inquests still outstanding so it will retraumatise those families who have been campaigning for the truth about what happened to their family members, some of whom have been campaigning for over 50 years. This new format they want to work with was already attempted with the Historial Enquiries Team and that failed for families. Many of those reports had to be quashed because they carried on British Army lies. We want our family and the other families to be able to get to the truth of what happened to our loved ones.”