Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris stated today that the U.K. Government plans to continue to pursue the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, restoring to the bill provisions that would provide an amnesty for murder and torture, halt current and future investigations, and deny victims access to the courts. This action contravenes Britain’s pledged commitments under the Good Friday Agreement and the norms of justice of civilized societies, including the basic principles of the Magna Carta, which holds that no one is above the law.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill has achieved the rare distinction of unifying the major political parties in opposition, parties that currently can not agree to form a government. The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, U.N. Special Rapporteurs, national human rights institutions, parliamentary committees, members of the U.S. House and Senate, and civil society organizations, including victims’ groups, have all denounced this bill. A recent poll reported that nine in 10 U.K. adults said perpetrators should still be prosecuted for serious crimes even if they were committed decades ago.
Only one group favors this legislation: those who wish to hide their misdeeds in the shadows of injustice, and that includes the British Government.
It is no coincidence that this legislation was announced in the Queen’s Speech on the very day a British Coroner’s court found that the ten civilians killed by members of the British Parachute Regiment were “completely innocent.” Nine days later, then Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized “unreservedly on behalf of the U.K. government for the events that took place in Ballymurphy and the huge anguish that the lengthy pursuit of truth has caused the families of those killed .” Prime Minister Johnson concluded that “No apology can lessen [the victims’] lasting pain.’
Yet that is, at most, what the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill would offer the victims of Ballymurphy and the families of hundreds of victims of violence perpetrated by Crown forces: an apology.
Even the possibility of families getting that modicum of relief is questionable as the bill is based on the wildly optimistic belief that those who have reached old age, having lived lives of stolen valor with medals on their chests and various honors after their names, will now have pangs of conscience and confess. Even Professor Pangloss and Pollyanna would be skeptical of the success of such a process.
The U.K. often seeks to leverage what it perceives to be a “Special Relationship” between the United Kingdom and the United States, a relationship built on “common language, ideals, and democratic practices.” Granting an amnesty for murder and denying victims access to the judicial system are not American ideals.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians calls upon all elected U.S. leaders to denounce the U.K.’s legacy bill; to remain silent is not the act of a friend but the actions of an accessory after the fact. If the Sunak government persists in this bill, the United States must reevaluate and reconsider “the special relationship.”