Belfast woman who has been campaigning nearly 50 years for legacy truth, described the Queen’s Speech amnesty announcement as a “kick in the teeth” for thousands of victims seeking justice. Patricia Burns, whose father was shot dead by British troopers in July 1972, spoke 4 days after the Queen’s Speech announcement, that Britain will push ahead with a Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) amnesty bill despite overwhelming opposition from Irish victims, the Irish government, Irish political parties and American Congress. She was joined by Congressman Jamaal Bowman, victims’ relatives Christine and Kathleen Duffy, Civil Rights lawyer Padraig Murray, Sinn Fein MP John Finucane, SDLP representative Alex Attwood, and Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice, in a program hosted by the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Congressman Jamaal Bowman, was one of the co-sponsors of House Resolution 888, passed on St. Patrick’s Day where Congress went on record:
‘Opposes any attempt by the British Government to implement amnesty or statute of limitation laws that would end or inhibit investigations and prosecutions of crimes committed during the Troubles, including on Bloody Sunday.’
He said he was ‘strongly opposed is to the British government’s decision to move forward with the Amnesty bill and cut off chances for hundreds of families to get the truth about the murder of loved ones…these families have a right to justice and instead of offering amnesty the British government should be trying to meet its obligations under international law, the Good Friday Agreement and Stormont House Agreement.”
He noted, his district includes the Bronx, and one of the cases involved was that of Liam Ryan, an American citizen and former Bronx resident who was murdered in a classic case of collusion.
Congressman Bowman pledged to ‘keep the legacy justice issue in the forefront in Congress and with the State Department.’
During a recent 10 day fact-finding tour Hibernians had received requests from victims’ families across the six counties who wanted to appeal for American help in their fight for justice. Two family representatives were selected.
Patricia Burns’ family had been campaigning for justice nearly 50 years. Her father had served in British Navy for ten years before returning to Belfast to marry. He was shot dead in July of 1972, by British troopers as he walked home. The inquest consisted of fabricated written statements from British troopers being read into the record and rubber-stamped.
She initiated a civil case to have a Belfast court issue a declaratory judgement that the British Amnesty proposal is illegal and has a pending application for a new inquest.
She said’ the last thing we have is hope and now the British want to take any hope away from us.’
Christine and Kathleen Duffy spoke while holding up a photo of Seamus Duffy, age 15, when he was shot dead by Royal Ulster Constabulary members using a plastic bullet at point blank range. The killing was almost 5 years to the day, when RUC members had killed John Downes in a similar incident around Internment Day, and the RUC pledged that such bullets would never again be fired at close range.
Seamus was named after his mother’s brother, who had been shot by British troopers in 1972. The Attorney General has ordered new inquests for both cases but the new amnesty laws would wipe out inquests for the Duffy family and all others in Troubles cases. Kathleen Duffy said ‘all we are asking for is the truth about these killings and when I am gone my daughter Christine and my other children would carry on the fight for truth and justice.’
What Amnesty Bill Would Do
Civil rights lawyer Padraig Murray, then explained the full extent of what the British are planning. Last year the Ballymurphy Inquest verdict held that ten people including a Catholic priest and grandmother were shot dead without any legal justification or serious investigation. These cases were referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions to be evaluated for prosecutions. The British plan to cut off any prosecutions of these or any other Troubles’ murders.
The British also want take away all rights to inquests. Inquests allow lawyers to question witnesses and challenge fabricated written statements. The solicitor gave an example of a loyalist who claimed Fr. Mullan picked up a rifle and hid it in his robes before being shot. Lawyers at the inquest were able to make nonsense of this claim with autopsy photos that showed Fr. Mullan was not even wearing priestly robes when shot. Information retrieval would allow the British to rubber-stamp made up statements by troopers.
Ombudsman investigations of the Royal Ulster Constabulary have resulted in damming reports of collusion and a Historical Investigations Unit as designed under the Stormont House Agreement could make similar findings about all Troubles killings. Any right to these proceedings or civil suits against the British would be taken away.
‘Families do not trust the British on legacy and they will challenge and fight these proposals in any way that they can.’
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, sent a strong message to victims’ families from the Irish Seanad, noting that the British and Irish governments had made an internationally binding Stormont House Agreement with the political parties in 2014.
The British are moving ahead unilaterally with something that significantly departs from that agreement. He said:
‘It is essential that both Governments and the political parties have real and considered discussion on any way forward on this deeply sensitive issue that still impacts many families deeply in Northern Ireland. Victims and families must, crucially, be brought into the consideration of any way forward. Unilateral action is not the way forward and will make matters worse, not better’.
Sinn Fein and SDLP
Representatives of Sinn Fein and the SDLP expressed their respective parties’ support for victims and opposition to the British proposals.
John Finucane MP, was introduced as a party representative of Sinn Fein and a victim’s family member whose father, civil rights lawyer Pat Finucane was murdered by British agents.
He noted that what the British are doing on legacy compounds the hurt felt by victims’ families, ‘not only the proposals themselves but the way the British go about it.’
He said the true motivation behind these proposals is that collusion and the full extent of Britain’s role in murders attributed to loyalists is being exposed. ‘These proposals are about protecting those in the corridors of power at Whitehall and Westminster.’
Alex Attwood who had been an elected representative in both the Belfast City Council and Stormont Assembly for 31 years, said ‘the voice of victims must be first and foremost.’He called the new proposals just ‘the latest version of delay and cover-up to deny victims the truth’.
He said the two SDLP MPs would be fighting these proposals at Westminster but warned that the British might try to fast-track amnesty through Westminster before the summer recess. The next 3-5 weeks will be crucial’.
Relatives for Justice
Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice added:
‘Today there are eleven hundred civil cases within the courts, 450-plus cases with the Ombudsman, 40-plus inquests awaiting hearings with scores more on the desk of the attorney general, 1,130 cases with the PSNI’s Legacy Investigations Branch, and Operation Kenova and its new work – legacy is not going
Worse, we are told the above processes are not working and cannot work by the very same government that has ensured they cannot work whilst simultaneously telling victims what they propose is in their best interests’.
AOH National President Danny O’Connell noted that he is traveling to Ireland this week and will raise the issue of legacy justice in meetings with Tanaiste Leo Varadkar, and other Irish and American officials as well as meeting victims’ families’ to assure them of continuing support.
National Vice-President Sean Pender said that ‘victims like Patricia Burns, Christine Duffy and Kathleen Duffy, like those we met during our fact-finding visit were an inspiration to Irish Americans and we will continue to support them.’
AOH Freedom for All Ireland Chair Martin Galvin said:
“In the past two months we have seen Brandon Lewis, Conor Burns and Lord Caine come to America and claim that these Amnesty proposals are intended to give victims truth and draw a line under the past. The British government would not be expending so much effort unless Irish American opposition was making a difference.
The victims’ families say these new British proposals would shut down any path to legacy justice and deprive them of basic rights guaranteed under the Good Friday Agreement and international law. Britain’s Amnesty proposals would not draw a line under the past, but add a new chapter of hurt and injustice. They will not herald an end to the battle for legacy truth, but merely begin a new round of legal fights in British and European Courts, that will cut across new generations.
Irish America must continue to stand behind these courageous families in their fight for justice.”