The long-running campaign by UK victims of Libyan-backed IRA bombings to pass a bill in parliament for financial compensation was dealt a new blow today, being vetoed in the Commons by a government whip, despite having passed in the House of Lords.
In what looks like a moment of desperation, an obscure parliamentary procedure was invoked to kill off the Asset Freezing (Compensation) Bill, a cross-party private members bill, which targets the £9.5 million that Gaddafi held in the UK before his death. No explanation for the intervention was given, just a single word; “object”.
Campaigners argue that, while US citizens who were injured on British soil have received six-figure sums from Gaddafi, British and Northern Irish victims have never had a penny. A deal cut between the US and Gaddafi in 2008 explicitly excluded UK citizens.
A series of delicate evidence submissions to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee by establishment figures including Tony Blair, have highlighted a certain sensitivity on the part of the British government as regards its own role in denying succour to its citizens.
While some have seen this as indicative of personal involvement on the part of Blair, it does not explain the squeamishness of subsequent Tory governments.
In December 2015, Blair wrote to the NI Affairs Committee to say that compensation for victims of Libyan-backed IRA attacks was never raised with him. Further, he said, victims were already looked after. “And of course a statutory compensation scheme for victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland was already in existence, having been set up by a previous government. The needs of victims were therefore being addressed through the existing structures and mechanisms.”
Given that British victims say that they have never heard of such a scheme, let alone benefitted from it, what’s Blair’s game? Is he making an implicit threat?
Northern Ireland, as a highly contentious part of the United Kingdom that many journalists are either too nervous or too bored to consider, is rarely scrutinised in Britain, being ‘other people’s business’. Those other people include MPs sitting in Westminster, however, as well as taxpayers and an unnaturally high concentration of spooks. Has Northern Ireland been designated as the tradesmens’ entrance for the UK? Useful, sometimes vital, but not something to talk about in polite society.
This week Theresa May refused to meet Susanne Dodds, the daughter of a police officer killed in the 1983 Harrods bombing. Today Dodds accused May of personal intervention in ensuring that Gaddafi’s money is kept safe from victims.
“Not only has the Prime Minister refused to meet me, she sent a government minister to object to the second reading,” she said. “It is disgraceful how the government are treating the victims.”
Lawyers for the victims, McCue & Partners, have been critical in the past of Blair’s agenda-setting prestidigitation – unsurprisingly, given McCue’s own part in securing a promise to pay from Libya’s transitional government back in April 2011. The firm is particularly troubled by Blair’s insistence that Libyan-IRA Semtex compensation was a separate issue to that of Lockerbie victims and the family of Yvonne Fletcher. “Why is there so much secrecy surrounding this issue? The victims deserve to know the truth,” it said.
The UK government spent thirty years fighting to preserve both what it saw as its constitutional validity and the safety of its British citizens, so why is it now ignoring the latter, in order to maintain the cloud of unknowing over Northern Irish affairs?
I am a freelance investigative journalist based in London.
You can follow me on Twitter: @FionaOCleirigh