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Former Secretary of State Shaun Woodward would ‘give up absolutely everything’ to assist Tory government over legacy


Former Labour Secretary of State Shaun Woodward

Former Labour Secretary of State Shaun Woodward

Former Labour Secretary of State Shaun Woodward

A former Labour Secretary of State has offered to assist the Tory government in devising a legacy plan by consulting with victims, church leaders and politicians.

Shaun Woodward said that any truth recovery process must have “accountability”, saying this is what is missing from the legacy proposals announced by Brandon Lewis on Wednesday.

A statute of limitations has been condemned by the five political parties and all the main victims’ groups.

Mr Woodward said: “It was always going to be difficult – no one imagined anything other. But what they’ve managed to do is unite absolutely everyone – the five parties, Amnesty International, Wave (victims’ group) the Irish government against the proposal.

“What they have failed to do is really widely consult with people and get something – it will never appeal to everybody – but that people would feel was possible to find a way to come behind.”

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Mr Woodward said the South African truth and reconciliation commission could be used as a template for any future information recovery body in Northern Ireland.

He added: “It had accountability. What is missing from the government’s proposals for a statute of limitation and all the things they are proposing to do is accountability and what unites people is they want accountability.

“If the Prime Minister tomorrow morning asked would I spend a year - doing what we asked Chris Patten to do on policing – on the legacy issue, of course I’d give up absolutely everything for the sake of Northern Ireland,” he told BBC’s Nolan Show.

Legal expert Joshua Rozenberg has said that the government’s plans appear to have no cut-off date on when the statute on prosecutions for Troubles offences should end.

The Belfast Telegraph reported that loyalist paramilitaries wanted to see the cut off point for prosecutions extended beyond April 1998.

Mr Rozenberg said that on reading the paper released by Mr Lewis, the government intended to put a ban not on prosecutions but on police investigations.

“This gets round the problem of defining ‘Troubles-related offences’ in the statute”, he said.

“It would be for the police to decide whether a crime that had been carried out in support of a paramilitary organisation - such as a bank robbery or a punishment beating - was Troubles-related.

“It also avoids the need for a strict cut-off date. No doubt some Troubles-related offences were committed after April 10 1998, the date of the Good Friday Agreement,” he added.

“If the bill deals only with investigations, then any that are completed before the legislation takes effect - next year at the earliest- could still lead to prosecutions.”

Saying the government would have to “instruction to the Public Prosecution Service or an undertaking by the Attorney General to drop cases that had been investigated but not prosecuted before the legislation is brought into force”.

This is a controversial move that would undoubtedly be subject to legal challenge by the relatives of victims with files currently with the PPS.

“The government seems to accept that some other form of investigation will be needed to satisfy Article 2 of the human rights convention, which has been interpreted as requiring an effective investigation into a death at the hands of the state. How far that obligation goes might be the subject of further litigation,” he added.

The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, the Rev John McDowell, spoke out against the government’s plans.

“Failure to deal with legacy has probably been the biggest political and societal failing since the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement,” said Rev McDowell.

“Regardless of the name it goes under, a general amnesty is what the Government of the United Kingdom is now planning to put in place.”

Adding that “once again political interests in Great Britain have been used as the criteria for settling policy in Northern Ireland”.

“To believe that any process of reconciliation can be advanced by a measure that betrays the trust of victims, and of most ordinary citizens, indicates a profound ignorance of human nature and human suffering, and of the particular conditions of society in Northern Ireland,” he said.

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland said the proposals will be seen by many victims as a "betrayal of trust".

Archbishop Eamon Martin said: "It is disturbing that victims and survivors, those have paid the highest price for the fragile peace we all enjoy today, once more feel marginalised and neglected.”

On Thursday, the SDLP said it would seek the recall of the Assembly from its summer recess to address Mr Lewis’s proposals.

The party's deputy leader, Nichola Mallon, said the Government's “brutal intervention is hostile to the interests of victims and survivors and must be opposed".

Northern Ireland's political party leaders will meet Mr Lewis on Friday to set out their opposition to the UK Government's plans.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said a process had to be agreed which would allow victims to pursue justice.

He told the BBC's Nolan Show: "We will oppose that legislation, as I think will all of the Northern Ireland parties represented in the House of Commons.

"The Labour Party are opposed to it. I don't know if there will be enough Conservative MPs opposed to the legislation to be able to block it in the House of Commons because obviously the Government has a very large majority.

"But we have made our position clear to the Government, we want to agree a process that enables those victims and families that want to pursue justice to be able to do so, and I think it is wrong to deny them the opportunity of pursuing justice.

"We are, all the party leaders, meeting with the Secretary of State on Friday, so that will be an opportunity to make our views known.

"We cannot continue to fail victims, we cannot corrupt the rule of law. When you proceed on the basis that victims no longer have the opportunity to pursue justice, that is how they will regard this."

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