Northern Ireland’s ‘Legacy’ Bill is being imposed on the colonial statelet by the Tory government. The proposed legislation echoes the Overseas Operations Act – aka the Tory War Crimes Immunity Bill. And just like the earlier bill, it would put justice out of reach for victims while protecting the British state.
Simply put, the law aims to make prosecutions harder. The bill has often been framed as a way to protect British veterans from vexatious claims and draw a line under the Troubles. It will do anything but.
After the bill returned to the Lord this week, many different groups slammed it. Even Northern Ireland’s most controversial hard-right party is against it. Additionally, the Council of Europe warned that the bill will diminish rights and accountability in a country which has seen precious little.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Northern Ireland’s radical right-wing electoral grouping, are against the bill. That’s not to say the hardcore unionists have softened. But the bill aims to replace legal processes with a process of testimony in exchange for legal immunity in a way even they can’t abide.
Leader Jeffrey Donaldson said he feared Republicans would get away with crimes and re-write history:
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While in the Commons, Northern Ireland minister Chris Heaton-Harris admitted that no Irish party backed the bill. In fact, he added that he felt the DUP could never be convinced:
I don’t think I will ever be able to win that argument with them.
South of the border
On top of that, the Republic of Ireland government is also against the bill. In a press release, Irish foreign and defence minister Micheál Martin urged that the bill be paused.
He said that the bill would set peace back in the North:
I worry, deeply, that the enactment of this bill, opposed by all political parties in Northern Ireland, and by victims and survivors of the Troubles across communities, will set back the essential work of reconciliation.
Additionally, Martin warned that the bill, if passed, would immediately be challenged in the courts:
If enacted, the bill will be the subject of significant legal challenge, adding to the distress of families.
The left-centre Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) also raised the issue in the Commons in defence of survivor’s rights:
The intervention of the @coe Human Rights Commissioner on the Northern Ireland Legacy Bill is significant.
There is a growing coalition of opposition to legislation that denies victims and survivors their internationally recognised rights. We’ll keep fighting it. pic.twitter.com/PIkCBNKpRC
— The SDLP (@SDLPlive) June 20, 2023
Council of Europe
The Council of Europe’s commissioner also attacked the bill. Dunja Mijatović warned that the bill would mean the UK abandoning weighty legal obligations:
The UK government’s ongoing attempt to pass the Northern Ireland Legacy Bill, including its recent introduction of amendments, ignores the many warnings that this legislation would violate the UK’s international obligations and put victims’ rights at risk
In fact, Mijatović also cited some of the many influential international organisations which oppose the bill.
Serious concerns have also been expressed by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteurs, national human rights institutions, parliamentary committees and civil society organisations, including victims’ groups.
This latest vicious bill from the Tories comes on the heels of many others, and is about protecting the British state. The reality is that justice for victims is not in the Tory creed – be those victims Irish Republicans, Unionists, or the very British troops the legislation is claimed to protect.
Pausing the bill isn’t enough. In truth, it should be stopped in its tracks. Yet with barely a spinal column to be found in the Commons or the Lords, it’s hard to imagine the bill not passing.Support us and go ad-free
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