UK moves to end prosecutions linked to the Troubles in Northern Ireland

Move sparks anger among families of those killed by Irish terrorists or British military forces

The UK is preparing a new law to end prosecutions linked to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, a move that risks straining frayed relations with Dublin.

The government plans to introduce a statute of limitations applying to all cases before 1998, the year the Good Friday Agreement largely ended three decades of violence in the province.

In a statement to parliament on Wednesday, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis set out how the amnesty will apply to former members of the British security forces as well as to former loyalist and republican paramilitaries.

The decision will please some in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, because it was a manifesto commitment to end unfair prosecutions of army veterans who served in Northern Ireland.

The issue is highly charged, with an MP on Tuesday using his right of legal immunity in parliament to name a soldier accused of murdering two men during a notorious event in 1972 in which 13 people were killed.

A judge had ruled that the man should be known only as Soldier F, but he was named by Northern Irish politician Colum Eastwood using ancient parliamentary rights.

The soldier had been facing charges of murdering two people when troops opened fire on a civil rights demonstration in Derry’s Bogside district that became known as Bloody Sunday.

Prosecutors were expected to withdraw proceedings against him last week, but the decision is being challenged through the courts.

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign affairs minister, said the matter is not settled and that his government has a “very different view” of the proposed changes.

The UK opposition Labour Party released a letter from Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine died in the 1974 pub bombings in Birmingham, central England, which killed 21.

“If one of your loved ones was blown up beyond recognition,” Ms Hambleton wrote in the letter addressed to Mr Johnson, “would you be so quick to agree to such obscene legislation being implemented?”

In 2014, the UK and Irish governments – and most political parties in Northern Ireland – reached a deal that included provisions to investigate outstanding crimes associated with the conflict, which claimed 3,500 lives on both sides.

The UK’s proposed legislation comes at a sensitive time for relations between London and Dublin. Tensions between the two governments have been growing since Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

This year, Northern Ireland experienced some its worst violence in years after trade between the province and the rest of the UK was disrupted by part of the Brexit deal. Both sides are still trying to make the Northern Ireland Protocol work.

Updated: July 14th 2021, 1:37 PM
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