In an unprecedented move, the President of America’s largest Irish American Organization, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), has written a letter to each member of the British House of Commons expressing strong opposition to the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill currently before parliament. This marks the first time that the AOH, an influential Irish-American organization, has reached out directly to Members of Parliament, highlighting the significance of the issue. The text of the letter is as follows:
In every official meeting between the United States and the United Kingdom, there is invariably a mention of the “Special Relationship” between our two countries. The bedrock of that relationship is our shared history and values. I write to you as the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill currently before parliament is a grave threat to that relationship.
The concept that no one is above the law, that all people are accountable for their actions and are entitled to justice, is one of the landmarks of Magna Carta and one of the great legacies that the British people have given the world. The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill repudiates that noble legacy by creating a protected class and denying victims of criminal action justice solely based on the time and place where the crime occurred. It violates Article Two of the European Convention of Human Rights and the accepted standards of justice of all democratic nations.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill has achieved the rare distinction of uniting the Northern Ireland community (who, ironically, proponents of this bill claim will be the “beneficiaries”) in unprecedented unanimity in opposition. The bill has been condemned by the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and in several letters and statements by members of the U.S. House and Senate. In a recent poll, 90% of U.K. citizens opposed the bill. This begs the question “Cui Bono?”
The main argument made by proponents of this bill is that “too much time has passed for effective prosecutions.’ We frankly find this argument fallacious. The passage of time has not been solely due to a natural course of events but largely a result of the prolonged delays in implementing commitments under the Good Friday, Stormont House, and Fresh Start Agreement Agreements. If the United Kingdom had acted on its obligations under those agreements, we believe significant progress could have been made in resolving the backlog of legacy now being used as a pretext for this bill.
Secondly, we note that just two weeks ago, Attorney General Dame Brenda King ordered a new inquest into the murders of five Catholic men in four separate attacks, citing “deficiencies” in the original investigations and “new information not considered at the first inquests.” If new information is still being developed in this and other cases, how can it be stated “too much time has passed for prosecutions?” I also draw your attention to 25 June this year when a British jury found John Apelgren guilty of killing 22-year-old sex worker Eileen Cotter on 1 June 1974. It defies logic that we are asked to accept that a murder in London in 1974 can be successfully prosecuted while the murder of a priest, shot in the back while administering the last rights to another victim in 1971, cannot.
Where the “too much time has passed argument” does have merit is showing that the proposed “truth recovery” process that the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill would substitute for justice is a fantasy. Are we expected to believe that perpetrators who have successfully avoided prosecution for decades will now have pangs of conscience and line up to confess their misdeeds, refuting tales they have told their children and grandchildren about their role in the Northern Ireland Conflict?
The proposed bill threatens to undermine the delicate balance achieved through the Good Friday Agreement. Such a course of action has the potential to strain relationships, both within Northern Ireland and internationally, and jeopardize the progress that has been made towards a lasting peace. It threatens the “Special Relationship,” for at the heart of any relationship is trust; if a nation can not keep faith with its commitments under international treaty and with its moral obligation to justice, how can the U.S. realistically have the trust to engage in future agreements with the U.K.?
We ask you to reject the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill and to protect Britain’s reputation as the ‘cradle of common law’; we ask the United Kingdom be faithful to the ideals of William Blackstone and William Garrow and not emulate the model of Augusto Pinochet.
The letter is signed Daniel J. O’Connell, President of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.