Irish outcry over UK plans to block ‘Troubles’ prosecutions
Irish deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar said Thursday that Dublin is “deeply alarmed” by reported British plans to unilaterally end historic prosecutions for crimes committed during “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland.
The UK is set to introduce a statute of limitations stopping charges over incidents which occurred before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which wound down decades of conflict in the British-ruled province, according to reports.
It would apply to British soldiers as well as paramilitaries active during the 30-year-long sectarian conflict, several UK newspapers said.
Exemptions would still allow war crimes such as torture to be prosecuted in the so-called “legacy” cases relating to some of the 3,500 deaths in strife between pro-UK unionists, pro-Ireland nationalists and British security forces.
“The government and myself personally were deeply alarmed,” Varadkar told Ireland’s Dail lower house of parliament.
“It’s something that we would not support as a government because we stand with the victims and the families who’ve been bereaved and damaged,” he added.
“They have a right to know what happened and they have a right to justice.”
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Dublin has been clear that it opposes “any unilateral action” on legacy cases.
He added on Twitter that victims and Northern Ireland “must be the priority, the only priority”.
A UK government spokesman said it had “clear objectives” to address the conflict’s legacy while delivering on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 2019 election commitments to veterans who served in Northern Ireland.
During the campaign he pledged to end “vexatious” prosecutions of British military personnel.
“We want to deal with the past in a way that helps society in Northern Ireland to look forward rather than back,” the spokesman said.
He added it was “clear to all that the current system for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles is not working for anyone”.
– ‘Collective approach’ –
Many families of the 300 people killed by troops during “The Troubles” regard British government moves to block prosecutions as an effective state amnesty for murder.
Conversely relatives of those killed by paramilitaries are often dismayed by the notion of granting pardons to organisations operating outside the law.
Several proceedings are currently underway against veterans who were deployed in Northern Ireland during Britain’s 38-year military intervention.
On Tuesday, a trial against two former paratroopers for the 1972 murder of an official Irish Republican Army (IRA) member collapsed over a lack of evidence.
However, some see any UK move to introduce a statute of limitations as a breach of a 2014 accord with Ireland, which has a key role in Northern Ireland.
The Stormont House Agreement pledges an independent investigation unit to re-examine all unsolved killings.
Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis discussed the issue at a meeting with Coveney in Dublin on Wednesday.
An Irish foreign ministry spokesman said they discussed “the commitments of the Stormont House Agreement and strongly advised against any unilateral action on such sensitive issues”.
“We reiterated that only through a collective approach can we deal with these issues comprehensively and fairly,” the spokesman told Irish broadcaster RTE.