The Dublin government has been urged not to delay a legal challenge against Britain’s ‘Bill of Shame’ after the massive legal cover-up passed its final hurdle at Westminster on Wednesday.
The measure, originally introduced by former PM Boris Johnson, will shut down all civil and criminal cases from the conflict from before 1998. Inquests, investigations and prosecutions are to be terminated across a long history of British atrocities.
On Wednesday, British MPs voted to overturn amendments made in the House of Lords, paving the way for the bill to be formally approved by King Charles – himself the commander in chief of a regiment which carried out the worst British massacres of the conflict.
The 26 County Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that his government is assessing legal advice on the strength of taking a case over the bill and will make a decision “in the coming weeks”.
“The Irish Government’s position has been very clear on this all along: we think this is a mistake, this is the wrong way to go about dealing with legacy issues,” the Taoiseach told reporters in County Wicklow.
As the Bill moved closer to becoming law, Amnesty International and a number of other human rights groups said it was a “dark day” for justice and pushed Dublin to challenge it through the European Court of Human Rights.
The British Labour Party’s new shadow Direct Ruler, Hilary Benn, has vowed to repeat the legislation if the opposition party win’s the next general election there. But for now, the legislation leaves the families of victims with little prospect of closure.
There were protests outside Westminster this week as the bill was passing through its final stages. Images of some of those who are being denied justice were beamed onto the parliament buildings.
“The projection on Parliament shows the faces of some of the victims whose families are being bitterly let down by the government. It is a timely and critical reminder that it is the victims, not perpetrators of serious crimes, who should be prioritised,” said its Six County director Grainne Teggart.
Michael O’Hare, brother of Majella O’Hare, who was shot dead by a British soldier in County Armagh when she was 12 in 1976, said: “The government has abandoned victims in favour of protecting those who took the lives of our loved ones.
“There are no words to express how deep that betrayal cuts. It is not right for the government to decide who gets justice for serious crimes such as murder and who doesn’t.
“I will continue to fight - the lives of our loved ones mattered. This isn’t over.”
The axe will fall even as legacy cases continue to yield prosecutions. One soldier has been convicted of manslaughter in recent months and two other cases involving killer soldiers are continuing, including one soldier accused of two murders and five attempted murders in Derry on Bloody Sunday.
Hundreds of victim’s families also took to the streets of Belfast this week to oppose the Tory Legacy Bill.
Tina Barrett’s brother Danny Barrett was 15 when he was shot dead by the British Army on 9 July 1981 whilst sitting on a wall in Havana Court in Ardoyne just outside his home.
“From the day Danny was killed to the day my mother died, she grieved every day, for decades. She cried every day. She always put out a plate and buttered bread for him at dinner,” she said.
“They not only robbed Danny of his life, they also robbed us of a normal life and trying to get the truth and accountability led to the premature death of my daddy. We are lucky in that we got an inquest, most of the people here haven’t got one. We will always show up to show the faces of our loved ones.”
Billy McManus, whose father William McManus was one of the victims of the Sean Graham Bookmakers Massacre on 5 February 1992, said the British government – unlike the families – had everything to fear – which is why they’re trying to hide their actions.
“Our case involves eight agents who were responsible for 27 murders. This Legacy Bill is absolutely disgraceful. They’re trying to cover-up all their dirty deeds. The only people who are for this bill are the ones who made us victims.
“The British government doesn’t want the truth coming out about what they really did but we won’t let that happen. We have no choice, we are all in the same boat, all we want is the truth. We have nothing to fear, after all, it wasn’t us who did anything wrong. They on the other hand have everything to fear.”
Tommy Duffin’s father Jack Duffin was also one of those killed in the Sean Graham’s massacre. He urged the Irish government to take legal action in Europe against the British government and said there wasn’t a word that could be used to sum up the injustice of the bill.
“The bill is outrageous, all the families think this. It’s shameful to lie and cover-up and in our case alone you have them supplying the weapons and eight agents responsible for 27 murders and not one arrested or charged.
“This bill is just to protect actions like that and the people who did it. It should be scrapped and abolished. I believe the Irish government have to do something about it but they are being very slow and trailing their heels. We are further along than other cases, some of which haven’t even got off the ground. A disgrace isn’t even a strong enough word for this bill, it’s abominable and inhumane and it needs to go.”
In the US, Democratic Congressman Richard Neal said he the Legacy Bill was “a fundamental shift” away from the Good Friday Agreement, while the Ad Hoc Committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement, a group of current and former members of the US congress, said the decision to proceed was “deeply regretted. Nothing good can come from this decision.”
Sinn Féin MP John Finucane described the Tories’ decision to push through the Legacy Bill and ignore opposition from victims ‘cynical and cruel’.
“The British government’s flawed and irredeemable Legacy Bill has always only been about one thing – closing the door on families ever getting truth and justice.
“It is absolutely cynical and cruel that the British government is forcing this bill through despite clear opposition from victims, all the political parties in this island, human rights experts, churches, the US, UN, EU and the Irish Government.”
Aontú said it already has a Bill going through the Dáil that would force the Dublin government to take Britain to the European Court of Justice, and called on all parties to support the Bill when the Dublin parliament returns.
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood also urged the Dublin government to take legal action.
He said: “I have never been so angry or ashamed at a decision taken by a legislature on these islands.
“The House of Commons has today given its support to an unconscionable effort to end pathways to truth and justice for victims and survivors of the most heinous atrocities of the last 50 years in Ireland and Britain.
“The names of those who have lost loved ones, family and friends should ring in the ears of every MP who supported this appalling bill.”
He added: “There is now, I believe, a moral obligation on the Irish government to step up and step in with legal action.
“The British government doesn’t care about the rights of victims but the international human rights standards that we all enjoy must be defended.”