Victims of IRA terrorism should not expect direct compensation from the new Libyan government, a businessman with links to the country has warned.
However, Peter Lismore, chairman of the Libyan Irish Business Council, believes the country’s government will make a contribution to the International Fund of Ireland, or a new fund, as a gesture of goodwill.
He also believes Libya wants to build trade links with Ireland worth hundreds of millions.
The Holywood-based businessman and his organisation will soon be bringing a delegation of around 20 Libyan parliamentarians to Belfast and Dublin to explore the possibilities. They also plan to learn the lessons of our peace process.
Some 158 victims in both the UK and Ireland are currently pursuing a claim for compensation with the backing of MPs like Jeffrey Donaldson, Lord Bew, the cross bench peer, and Jason McCue, the solicitor who brought the civil compensation case against alleged Real IRA leaders on behalf of some victims of the Omagh bombing.
“I don’t think this case will be advanced. I think that claim probably died with the previous regime and I don’t think it will ever be taken on by the current democratically elected government,” said Mr Lismore, who is also the SDLP’s international secretary.
He urged Northern Ireland to approach Libya “stretching out a hand of friendship and not stretching out a hand for compensation”.
“Libya and Ireland should be looking for a new future. It is a new Libya now and it wants proper commercial, political, diplomatic and cultural relationships with Ireland north and south,” he said.
“There is a tremendous amount of commercial opportunity inside Libya. We can export food and services straight away. There is extensive damage inside the country that needs to be repaired and this offers opportunities for trade.”
Mr Lismore’s family has a long association with Libya. His father Harold was an adviser to King Idris, who Gaddafi toppled in 1969. He continued to work with the new regime into the 1980s and Mr Lismore himself knows the country.
As part of its rapprochement with the west the Gaddafi regime made an “ex gratia” payment of $7.5m (£4.72m) to each of the families of the 270 people who died in the bombing of Pan AM Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1998.
That payment was authorised by Abdul Atti al-Obeidi, Prime Minister of Libya under Gaddafi. Mr al Obeidi was detained by rebel forces in August of last year. “He is now on trial for settling that claim; the charge is over-compensating the victims and wasting state funds,” Mr Lismore said.
“Al Obeidi could be released soon but these charges show the present regime’s attitude towards compensation compared to the previous regime.”
Willie Frazer of the victims group Fair said he believed that some victims would still pursue the claim.
“I am more concerned about getting information, I am not hung up on money,” he said.
Last month the Libyan press reported a visit to the country was expected from Mr Frazer, Jonathan Ganesh, injured in the IRA’s Docklands bomb in 1996, and John Murray, a policeman present when PC Yvonne Fletcher was shot dead at the Libyan People Bureau in London in 1984.
Lockerbie payout had raised hopes
Under the dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya provided many of the weapons and all of the Semtex used in the IRA campaign.
For several years unionist politicians and victims groups like Families Acting for Innocent Relatives have pursued a campaign for compensation on behalf of victims. As he tried to make peace with the west Gaddafi paid compensation to victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing when Pan Am flight 103 was brought down over Scotland allegedly by Libyan agents.
This raised hopes of a similar deal for Ireland and the case of 158 semtex victims, including those killed or injured in London’s Docklands bomb, was taken up by the solicitor Jason McCue.
In 2009 a parliamentary delegation led by Lord Brennan visited Tripoli and a sum of up to £2bn, £800m directly to victims, was talked of.
Last year, during the civil war which brought down Gaddafi, Mr McCue got Mustafa Jalil, a senior figure in the National Transitional Council, to sign a paper apologising for Gaddafi’s arming of the IRA. It talked of seeking a “morally just and appropriate settlement” but made no commitment on figures.
Since then the British Government has advised victim’s representatives not to travel to Libya to pursue the claim.