The UK government must do better than this wretched legacy bill. But an amnesty is still inevitable

Last week the Bishop of Derry dedicated a garden to the memory of a 15 year old Derry boy Manus Deery, shot dead by the British Army in the Bogside on the 50th anniversary of his death. As the Derry Now website reported:

Manus had just started working after leaving St Joseph’s Secondary School and was eating a bag of chips and carrying a comic in his back pocket which he had bought with his first wage packet... At the time, the British Army claimed they had shot a 17-year-old gunman. It took 45 years for an inquest to declare Manus was totally innocent…

His sister Helen said:  “It was put out on BBC News that Manus was a ’17-year-old gunman’….However, it was only 45 years later at his inquest when the authorities finally admitted that he had no gun and posed no threat to anyone and that he was unlawfully killed…That admission came two days before what would have been his 60th birthday.

“We had been obstructed at every turn to get accountability. They even went so far as to stop me from accessing legal aid.”

The inquest in 2017  cleared Manus’ name and revealed the identity of the soldier who killed him.

Private William Glasgow, who died in 2001, was that man and at the inquest, his colleague that night – identified only as ‘Soldier B’ – revealed the horrific manner of how it was decided which of the two would open fire on Manus.

Helen continued: “We knew the identity of the soldier who killed Manus years ago.

“He is dead now but the other soldier (Soldier B) was up in court at the inquest. After 45 years, it was the first time that I had seen him. He had absolutely no regrets. It came out, under questioning from the barrister that he had asked his colleague (Pt Glasgow) to shoot Manus because he was a better shot than him.

“The barrister asked him how he knew that and he replied, ‘well he is on a higher wage – we get a rise in pay for every target we hit’. That just broke through my heart.”

Speaking at the opening of the memorial garden, veteran civil and human rights campaigner, Eamonn McCann, told those present 138 children under the age of 16 died during ‘The Troubles.’

Almost 50 years after the event, the garden is the legacy of Manus’s tragic death – one to add to the memorials that dominate the very small area that is the  Bogside.

The case of Sean Brown a GAA official murdered in 1997 was the subject of civil action as reported in the Irish News.

The 61-year-old was attacked and beaten by LVF members as he locked the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAC on May 12 1997.

The Bellaghy club chairman was then put in the boot of his own car and taken to a country lane outside Randalstown in Co Antrim where he was shot six times. His body was later found beside his burning car.

In the civil action in which the police apologised for an incompetent investigation. Compensation was paid to his widow. An inquest is  pending.

THE grandson of murdered GAA official Sean Brown has described plans by the British government to end legacy civil cases as “shameful“…

 Daman Brown was critical of the British government’s plans. “We settled a civil action against the chief constable on May 12,” he said.

“Days later the British government announced that such civil actions would be outlawed. This is shameful for other families coming behind us. They have the same right to a civil case and an inquest as we do.

I hear there is now a rush to apply for civil actions before a deadline is imposed

Reform of the inquest system was initiated in 2016 by the then Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan. For the first time inquests became meaningful although denied full funding by the Executive headed by Arlene Foster .The impact was evident when the coroner Justice Siobhan Keegan found 10 victims innocent in the Ballymurphy inquest a year ago. Stark evidence was heard of  paratroops taking pot shots at apparently random  targets in open ground in August 1971 during the aftermath of internment.

Victims organisations say there are 57 legacy inquests that need to be held, relating to about 100 killings during the Northern Ireland Troubles If the UK Government’s latest plan for a new Legacy Act goes through, the revelation of such truths is seriously under threat. After all the effort put into a reformed system the judiciary will hardly welcome scrapping it.

Now the government are proposing to dispense with not only Troubles inquests, but civil actions, police ombudsman inquiries and formal trials. Inquires like Operation Canova much praised in the Commons today, won’t be repeated.  32 files from Canova have piled up with the Prosecution Service for lack of funds to proceed.

. The new Bill proposes a new independent body – the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) – will conduct investigations. It replaced two  predecessors  in rapid succession –  the Stormont House Agreement legacy Bill which created an  Historical Investigations Unit that had considerable  support ; and a Statute of Limitations or amnesty which suddenly replaced it  Why? Too much investigations that would go on and on with little result; or to critics, to protect the state from too much prying investigations into collusion and veteran solders from “vexatious” prosecutions.

But maybe straight amnesty was a step too far.  We’d better have some process  And so – third time lucky –  a new Bill with  a new independent body- the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, able to grant immunity from prosecution,  in exchange for reliable information  to hand on to victims’ relatives. A Panel of Commissioners will be headed by a senior judge (provided they can find one to take on this quasi-judicial role) and an experienced chief investigator. But how to judge what is reliable evidence and enough to grant immunity? And is it adequate to rely on that evidence alone without comparing it  with any other evidence? Can the evidence be challenged in open session?

To put it mildly, the new plan isn’t gong down any better than the amnesty idea . Ex secretary of state Julian Smith the champion of the  Stormont House Agreement legacy  proposals  in the New Decade, New Agreement, took the new Bill apart

It was doubtfully compliant with human rights law requiring thorough murder investigations.

It failed to meet the SHA criteria of agreement, buy- in and consent.

It overrode the principle of consultation with the local parties, victims and the Irish government and gave supervisory powers exclusively to the secretary of state.

Like others, including supporters of army veterans, Smith  was opposed to amnesty without due process. (The DUP will not oppose the Bill as such but will move amendments to stop reducing two year prison sentences to zero).

The proposals spoke of “review rather than investigations” suggesting weak powers of investigation, Smith went on, little more than the desk top review that was part of the   amnesty Bill it will replace.

The government have left room for amendments to stiffen those powers and include a role for the Irish government and others with wider international experience.

But as the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood declared bitterly, not a single body concerned with the legacy has confidence in the governments’ plan.

The government knows that.  So why are they still persisting without support beyond their back benches?  It’ s because  they got cold feet about the spectre of amnesty which would let off their old enemies, The Tories’ determination to protect army veterans  from ” vexatious” legal inquiries years after the event is still very much there.

The new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery is a fig leaf to avoid pursuing justice which the government argue is unavailable. But truth? What was wrong with the five year Stormont House Agreement Bill which most parties approved or at least tolerated ; and persisting with civil actions and beefed up inquests?  Their  critics  say the British state has much to hide about collusion.  Whether that is a significant factor or not, they’ve abandoned the nearest to a consensual route to amnesty which too few are yet prepared to admit is inevitable. The UK government seems prepared to go it alone in nudging its many critics towards that conclusion .

 

 

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