After appearing to side with her Defence Secretary on Wednesday in favouring a selective amnesty for former security forces in Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister has thought the better of it as the long delayed consultation on the Legacy Bill was launched. We are in the peculiar position of Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill broadly welcoming the Bill, while the DUP leader Arlene Foster contemplates a legal challenge to the High Court ruling that she wasn’t entitled to refuse to submit a funding request for legacy inquests to the Executive for decision. The consultation announced by SoS Karen Bradley will last until 10 September. An agreed approach among the parties is to say the least unlikely, but the responses from myriad stakeholders should raise the standard of debate,
The four new legacy institutions in the Stormont House Agreement reappear as expected • the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) • the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR) • the Oral History Archive (OHA) • the Implementation and Reconciliation Group (IRG) This is from the short version designed for people with learning difficulties of the full 73 pages including the draft Bill which I haven’t yet broached.
Theresa May has faced down opposition from Gavin Williamson and senior Brexiteers and forced through a consultation to investigate killings in Northern Ireland without special protections for British soldiers.
The prime minister sided with Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland secretary, against four senior cabinet ministers — including Mr Williamson, the defence secretary — who were demanding an amnesty for British forces deployed during the Troubles.
Downing Street is understood to have told Ms Bradley’s cabinet colleagues last night that their appeal had been rejected. Sources close to Mr Williamson feared that this could encourage prosecutions against “easy targets” in the military while terrorists went free.
Ms Bradley said that people’s desire not to draw a line in the sand on Troubles investigations informed her decision to exclude an amnesty. She insisted there was no support in the region for a “Northern Ireland-only statute of limitations” as she launched a public consultation on other proposals, including a new independent investigations unit and a truth recovery body.
“The people have been very clear to me in Northern Ireland — the way to address the legacy of the past, the way to address the legacy of the Troubles, is for people to go through this process of understanding what happened, for victims to find out the truth and to see justice being done,” she said.
“That is what people have been clear they want, they don’t want to draw a line in the sand and pretend it never happened — they want to deal with it this way and that’s what I support.”
Ms Bradley also defended the prime minister’s claim this week that only former military personnel were being investigated over Troubles killings, insisting it was not an attempt to interfere with the region’s justice system.
The four-month public consultation will seek to canvass views on new mechanisms to investigate, document and uncover the truth around killings during the 30-year conflict. It is based on a blueprint agreed by the Stormont parties and the British and Irish governments in 2014, whose implementation has been delayed by political disputes in Northern Ireland.
Late last year the government, which is to spend £150 million setting up the institutions, indicated that a statute of limitations for former military personnel may be added to the consultation. The prospect of such a move was met with staunch opposition in Northern Ireland, but removing it has caused anger among some Conservative ministers and backbench MPs.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London