The genie of amnesty is out of the bottle. Not the last word, but the beginning of the end.

The British government’s announcement of a statute of limitations has not only united all parties against them.  It has also exposed the weaknesses of everybody’s positions including their own. All  other parties are insisting on a role for justice while admitting there’s very little hope left of achieving it. As justice for victims and relatives is unobtainable in most cases, what is the point of holding out for years for the remote chance of a trial?  After decades of deadlock …

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This time, it’s the Troubles legacy. Northern Ireland opinion on a key issue, even when substantially in agreement, is being overruled by Johnson’s Conservatives

The devil will be in the detail but as a example of news management in advance, the UK Government’s plans for a Troubles amnesty could hardly be worse for opinion in  Northern Ireland Veterans who served in Northern Ireland are finally set to be freed from the threat of prosecution. In a victory for the Daily Mail, a planned statute of limitations will today be announced covering all incidents during the Troubles. The move by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis is …

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What next after the interim report on Irish referendums?

 A surprising initiative It’s a remarkable fact about the working group on Unification Referendums that it took an initiative led by London academics to start the process of setting rules for a possible outcome that has been the Irish obsession of centuries. The initiative was in part a reproach as to how politics particularly but not only in Northern Ireland is serving the public, partly an acknowledgement of the complexity of the issues where intensity of feeling can prevent people …

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Northern Ireland Human Rights Festival, 7th – 11th December 2020…

The festival will run from the 7th-11th December and continues to offer a wide variety of more than 30 free online events and on-demand content focussed on aspects of human rights from home and abroad. 2020 has been an unbelievably challenging year for everyone across the world. The Covid-19 global pandemic has created a massive public health emergency, extensive loss of life and has also exposed and deepened many inequalities in our society. Rights continue to connect us and to …

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It’s strictly dancing up to the Brexit deadline. Meanwhile “the border in the Irish Sea” takes shape in Northern Ireland

Archbishops’ letter image. FT  The  off- on- off again  dance around the final stages of Brexit negotiations is taking place against  a mounting clamour of confusion and anger over the crazy politics  including the real implications of the threatened No Deal, about which the UK government postures so insouciantly. UK in a Changing Europe think tank says their modelling with the LSE of the impact of a no-deal Brexit suggests the total cost to the UK economy over the longer …

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‘A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is overdue’

A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is overdue and would protect the interests and concerns of all the population, insists Colin Harvey, professor of human rights at Queen’s University, Belfast.  He was talking in the latest Forward Together podcast from the Holywell Trust. The Good Friday Agreement provided the expectation that there would be a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland that would safeguard citizens’ rights. And a committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly is, more than 20 years …

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The curious case of the Department of Health

Abortion has been legal in Northern Ireland for over a year now. Under the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020, terminations up to 12 weeks are now lawful. Abortions after 12 weeks are heavily restricted. Terminations are available up to 24 weeks if there is a risk to the mental or physical health of the woman. There is no time limit where there is a fatal fetal abnormality. With the law firmly in place, it was expected that the commissioning of …

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Action not another inquiry is needed to tackle the Troubles’ legacy as well as the legacy of slavery

Fintan O’Toole has turned his attention to support a new proposal for dealing with the legacy. While well intentioned, this one has a flavour of rummaging in the bottom drawer for an idea.  The proposal (which I have signed, along with many others) is a product of widespread consultation with victims, with combatants from all sides and with people in politics and academia. The nub of it is conditional amnesty: a system in which those with personal knowledge of violent …

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Removing statues is a revolutionary gesture. Is that what’s needed?

Queen Victoria being removed from the front of the Dail     Fergus on Monday nailed it.  In the current atmosphere the statue of Oliver Cromwell speaks for itself.  Perched in front of Westminster Hall the Victorians who erected it were celebrating the victory of Parliament over the royal tyrant Charles 1. But even leaving aside the massacres of Drogheda and Wexford, this distorts Cromwell’s record. He sent the troops in to expel Parliament not once but twice and instead ruled …

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Abortion as an individual human right or by the will of a majority? The NI Assembly wants to “send a signal”

Heidi Crowter, anti-abortion campaigner   Do the new regulations permitting abortion in Northern Ireland extend to foetal abnormalties like Down’s syndrome or not? Behind the question is a constitutional argument over  whether Westminster had the moral right to enact an abortion law over the heads, even when they were in suspension.  But although the DUP and SF seem to be in broad agreement, they seem to be content to win two separate  majorities by designation rather  than go for an overall …

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Gerry Adams’ “illegal detention” Supreme Court ruling needs correction by Parliament to prevent hundreds of compensation claims

Gerry Adams’ victory in obtaining a Supreme Court ruling against the legality of his detention without trial followed by his escape from the Maze in 1975 has produced serious opposition within the establishment. The ruling rests on a technicality with potentially wide implications, that the interim custody order made against him hadn’t been signed personally by the secretary of state Willie Whitelaw. To a lay person this ruling seems more than slightly bonkers; but its defenders will argue that the …

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Victory for the de Souzas and for Irish citizens’ immigration rights: a battle that should never have needed to be fought

Yet another example of ignorance of Northern Ireland affairs in different parts of the UK government. Derry born Emma de Souza has won her three year battle to allow her American husband Jake to live with her, an Irish citizen in Northern Ireland, without having to renounce her birthright as a British citizen which she doesn’t want to exercise. She wants to bring him in under EU therefore Irish not UK immigration laws. Her victory is a triumph of principle …

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The suspension of Northern Ireland’s new abortion regulations under pressure from “pro-life” opinion is fake news of the UK government’s making

The Irish News story on 8 May THE British government last night withdrew controversial abortion regulations for Northern Ireland before they could be put to the vote in Parliament next week. It means that the regulations put forward by secretary of state Brandon Lewis at the end of March will not now apply. It is understood that the strength of the challenges faced by the proposed legislation, in particular at a Lords select committee, led the government to pull the …

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Emma De Souza: a solution?

As we drift through another week in lockdown, it’s hard to believe that there’s anything else to discuss apart from Coronavirus. Thankfully, Northern Ireland’s unique brand of identity politics stops for no pandemic. Cast your mind back to last year and the case of Emma De Souza. I wrote about it here. Mrs De Souza’s case concerns Article 1(vi) of the British-Irish Agreement. That section states that the two governments recognise the right of: ‘…..the people of Northern Ireland to …

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Update on abortion. Stormont and the medical establishment will obey the law

According to  BBC NI, Stormont has today complied with UK law.  Women will not have to travel by ferry to GB  for the procedure after all. Medical professionals in NI can now “terminate pregnancies lawfully”, the Department of Health has said. Last month, abortion laws changed to permit terminations up to 12 weeks, but this had not been put into practice. Some of NI’s health trusts had been told by the department not to proceed with temporary plans. The department has now said …

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Breakthrough news on the Troubles legacy. Legal critics of the UK government recommend a case by case amnesty

Prof Kieran McEvoy A get out of jail card has been produced by a group of academic lawyers who have spent years wrestling with the intractable problems of the Troubles legacy. The card would not only work for former soldiers facing charges, but also for the British government which is likely to face years in court if it tries to discriminate in their favour. Three weeks ago the  government suddenly abandoned the long discussed and  much consulted on plans originally …

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From abortion to coronavirus, Westminster rule is still decisive – if they choose to exercise it

The situation is replete with irony.   In the absence of the Assembly a formerly inert Westminster sprung into life to enact three controversial reforms; on same sex marriage, victims’ pensions (pending) and most controversially of all, abortion. Sinn Fein which only acknowledges any legal British authority over Northern Ireland with the greatest reluctance warmly welcomed Westminster’s imposition of the most radical shift possible from the most restrictive to the most sweeping abortion regulations in these islands; while the defenders of …

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Major battle likely over the UK government’s latest Legacy plans.

For those of us who don’t provide an essential service there will be time and energy  to spare for the matters I’ve  already  drawn attention to, such as  the government’s  latest Legacy proposals  produced last week. They abruptly overturned  everything that has gone before, reached after  years of tortuous  gestation and months of consultation,  concluding in July last year. They were contained in a brief statement above the name of the new Secretary of State Brandon Lewis: Reconciliation and information …

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What’s in the Coronavirus Bill?

This week the government intends to push its Coronavirus Bill through Parliament. In its “summary of impacts” document, the government states that the bill is “temporary, emergency legislation” which intends to “provide powers needed to respond to the current coronavirus epidemic.” MPs will be expected to grapple with the 300-page bill over the course of a few days. It will, for as long as it is in operation, fundamentally change our way of life. The legislation represents the biggest diminution …

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Commemorating the RIC and allowing an Irish Language Act are opposite sides of the same coin

 RTE The Irish government’s decision to commemorate the RIC in a major state ceremony is the right one precisely because it is as controversial as it is fundamental. There is no point in filling an entire decade with an orgy of self congratulation. The modern Irish state was born in insurgency and revolution is always controversial. But it is s also a reminder of that the state born out of revolution was part of a much longer continuum that is …

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