Bradley’s attempt to choke off debate on a statute of limitations will fail

In anticipation of the end of the consultation period on Friday for the proposals  on dealing with the Troubles’ legacy,  the secretary of state Karen Bradley writes in Eamonn Mallie’s website..

As the consultation is still live, I will not, at this stage, comment on specific suggestions.

She then goes on to do precisely that, on the issue overhanging  the whole exercise  that has significant support at Westminster and in sections of NI opinion.  The military lobby is campaigning strongly for an amnesty for the security forces, recognising that this may entail an amnesty across the board. Many in the justice system believe that  a continuing long drawn out legal process will fail to turn up sufficient evidence for prosecutions and will hamper chances of reconciliation. Others, that a continuing examination of the records by an Independent Historical Investigations Unit has a built- in bias against the security forces, extensively covered in the Newsletter’s Stop the Legacy Scandal campaign.            

I am aware that some people wanted to see the option of a statute of limitations included in the consultation, while others were strongly opposed to the idea.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the bravery of the soldiers and police officers who upheld the rule of law and were themselves accountable to it. I fully understand the concerns that have been raised, but a statute of limitations would not be possible under international law without extending it to terrorists. That is something I could not support.

In the Lords debate early  last month, discussion on an amnesty did receive encouragement from the junior NIO  minister Lord Duncan of Springbank. Typically, Bradley has chosen the default position with no explanation so far.  Her attempt to forestall critical reaction will surely fail.  Drawing a line in some form is now supported by every surviving secretary of state of both parties prior to the coalition government, the generals (predictably enough), a former head of MI5 and assorted establishment figures on both sides of the Irish Sea.  Apart from the amnesty issue, the government’s attempt in effect to give a veto to the chronically divided local parties all but guarantees continuing deadlock, making the consultation  a wholly predictable exercise in futility.

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