Angry MPs hit out at snub for Libyan terror payout fund
The Government has been heavily criticised after snubbing proposals for a compensation scheme for victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism.
It rejected calls from a powerful committee of MPs to set up and finance a reparations fund.
Officials also ruled out using the UK's political or financial support to Libya as leverage to secure cash, saying it would not be in the national interest.
The Government was responding to recommendations made in a highly critical report by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.
The cross-party group of MPs has been considering how victims of atrocities carried out with weapons and Semtex supplied by the Gaddafi regime can be compensated.
Last night MPs joined with victims' campaigners and families bereaved by IRA violence to condemn the Government's response.
Northern Ireland-born Labour MP Kate Hoey said the move was "unacceptable".
Kenny Donaldson from Innocent Victims United accused the Government of cowardice.
He said: "Effectively, what the UK State is saying is: 'We're prepared to keep providing tea and biccies and offering patronising sympathy. But when it comes to standing by victims' rights and unashamedly pursuing their legitimate grievances, we are opting out'.
"This position is the position of cowardice and is both politically and morally indefensible."
From the early 1970s the Gaddafi regime supplied arms, explosives, funding and training to the IRA.
Libyan-supplied Semtex was used in bombings including the Harrods department store attack in 1983, the Enniskillen Poppy Day blast in 1987 and the Warrington bomb in 1993.
In May a report by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee criticised the failure of successive governments to pursue compensation from Libya.
The report made a series of recommendations, including:
A "fresh approach" from the Government to secure compensation for victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex.
A reparations fund established and financed by the Government if rapid progress is not made with Libyan authorities.
A proposal for Libyan assets to be frozen in the UK to provide leverage in direct negotiations on compensation for victims.
However, the Government response, which was published today, did not accept the committee's recommendations. It instead concluded that:
- Despite repeated expressions of sympathy for victims, a UK reparations fund for victims is not a "viable option".
- Compensation claims are considered to be private matters, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should provide facilitation to victims to engage with the Libyan authorities to pursue compensation.
- It is not in the UK national interest to use political or financial support to Libya as leverage to secure compensation for victims.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said the response was unacceptable.
It added: "The response will be deeply disappointing to victims.
"It does not offer a new way forward for securing compensation to victims and reiterates the Government's current position."
Committee chairman Andrew Murrison said: "It had been hoped that, despite decades of disappointment, a fresh way forward could be found."
The US secured a $1.5bn compensation fund for American victims of terror attacks blamed on Libya, including the Lockerbie bombing.
Ms Hoey said there was an onus on the Government to act for its people.
"The Government response is as unsurprising as it is unacceptable," she added.
"They are telling people to seek justice on their own, to bear the cost and overcome the language barrier of obtaining compensation directly from the Libyan government.
"There is a duty to represent the victims, just as the US and German governments fought for compensation for their citizens."
DUP MP Ian Paisley, who also sits on the committee, said: "Enniskillen, Portadown, Manchester, Brighton, Lisburn, Belfast, Canary Wharf and Warrington were all bombed by the Provisional IRA using Libyan Semtex.
"It is appalling that there has been no substantive action from the Government over a long period of time to address the injustice felt by victims right across the United Kingdom."
A statement said: "The Government notes the committee's recommendation that the UK should establish a fund to provide financial compensation and support specifically to the victims of Gaddafi-sponsored terrorism, while simultaneously taking forward negotiations with the Libyan authorities.
"Her Majesty's Government has considered the feasibility of establishing such a fund and at this stage has concluded that it is not a viable option."