A controversial law that would effectively end prosecutions related to The Troubles has passed its final hurdle in the Commons – despite anger from all sides on the island of Ireland.
MPs today approved the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which will stop new cases and inquests being opened into killings on both sides of the conflict.
Instead, conditional amnesty will be offered to those who reveal information about the incidents to a new truth recovery body.
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Inspired by Nelson Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery will also produce a historical record of what is known in relation to every death that occurred during the Troubles.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said he believed the bill – which will now return to the Lords to be approved before becoming law – would “draw a line under the past”, and it has received support from a number of veterans’ organisations.
Bill is biggest test of Anglo-Irish relations in 50 years
Legislation to end historical prosecutions in Northern Ireland could be the biggest test of Anglo-Irish relations in half a century.
It was 1971 when Dublin last brought a case against the UK Government to the European Court of Human Rights.
Opposition to the controversial Legacy Bill has created the most unlikely alliance of Unionists, Nationalists, Dublin, Washington and the EU.
The Government will focus on the fact that British Army veterans will be granted immunity from prosecution for historical offences.
But the amnesty will also apply to the very terrorists who murdered British soldiers on the streets of Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris MP claims the Northern Ireland Legacy Bill will “draw a line under the past.”
But relatives of victims say it only benefits perpetrators because it is they who will choose between truth and justice.
If someone accused of murder provides information to a new Truth Recovery Body, they will be granted a prosecutorial amnesty.
With 3,000 of the 3,500 troubles murders unresolved, the legacy of the past has clouded the Northern Ireland peace process.
But the cloud won’t be lifted by demanding too high a price from those who have paid most – the victims.
However, there is much wider criticism of the plan, with victims groups saying the law would protect the perpetrators of the killings, rather than offering justice.
All the political parties in Northern Ireland are also united against the legislation, as well as the government in Dublin.
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Irish foreign minister Micheal Martin told the Financial Times this week that ministers were seeking legal advice over whether the bill breaches Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights – “right to life” – meaning it could be challenged in the courts.
If the Irish government launches a legal battle, it will only be the second time Dublin has taken the UK to court, with the last case over actions in Northern Ireland taking place 52 years ago.
More than 3,500 people were killed during the Troubles, including over 1,000 members of the security forces.