Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s decision to help IRA bomb victims pursue compensation from Libya is a major breakthrough, a leading lawyer acting on their behalf has said.
Jason McCue was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph after Mr Brown vowed to establish a dedicated team to help secure payouts to families of those blown up by the Libyan-supplied Semtex used by republican bombers.
Mr Brown had initially refused to press Libyan President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to compensate amid concerns it may upset relations, but last night he took the dramatic step of pledging Downing Street’s support for the victims and their families.
The Prime Minister said dedicated Foreign Office staff would assist the victims and diplomats at the British Embassy in Tripoli, and would accompany and advise them when they travel to Libya to seek direct talks with Colonel Gaddafi within the next few weeks.
Speaking in Berlin, where he was holding talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr Brown said: “I care enormously about the impact of IRA terror on victims and their families and on our communities.”
Successive governments had raised the issue of Libyan support for the IRA — including the supply of Semtex used by republican bomb-makers in their campaign of terror in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s — over the past two decades, said Mr Brown.
But he said that the Government judged that the most effective means of seeking compensation was not through direct official negotiations with the Libyan authorities, but by supporting the families in their legal battle.
Mr Brown had come under increasing fire recently over the early release of Lockerbie bomber Adelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi. Yesterday, The Sunday Times claimed Justice Secretary Jack Straw wrote to the Prime Minister warning the Libyans might block a multi-million pound BP oil deal if he wasn’t released. And the Sunday Telegraph also said the doctors who came to the decision that the Lockerbie bomber had only three months left to live were reportedly paid — and influenced — by the Libyan government. But last night, the Prime Minister attempted to stem the tide of bad press by making his position clear at an international conference in Berlin, Germany.
He said: “I think it is clear that we are taking what action we believe is necessary to support the families in their difficult but necessary attempt to represent themselves with the Libyan authorities.”
Mr McCue said the news represented the first glimmer of hope in a battle that has lasted two decades.
“At the moment I am confident about this,” he told the Telegraph.
“We’re going over to talk to the Libyans. Now, with the Prime Minister’s backing and this dedicated team the victims can be fairly confident they will get justice at long last.
“For the first time they have a real chance, now they have secured the backing of the British Government for the first time in 20 years.”
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson welcomed the Prime Minister’s decision to support an IRA victims’ campaign against Libya.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Donaldson said it was a positive development for those affected by IRA violence.
“We welcome the news that the Prime Minister is going to support our campaign to take our case to Libya and we will be in touch with the Foreign Office to ensure this happens and we get the assistance for victims to put their case to the Libyan government,” he said.
“We want Gordon Brown to officially say that he upholds the right of victims of IRA terrorism to be compensated by Libya for the death and destruction caused by IRA atrocities through the use of Semtex and weaponry supplied by Libya.
Mr Donaldson said he hoped Northern Ireland politicians and the relatives of Troubles victims could take their fight to Tripoli as early as next month. He also said he was hopeful that this development would bring compensation a step closer to reality.