Republic vows to oppose amnesty for Troubles security forces
The Irish government will oppose any form of amnesty for security force members as part of measures to address the legacy of the Troubles.
Dublin last night pledged to challenge the statute of limitations proposal which is to be floated in a British Government public consultation document.
Human rights and victims groups also came out strongly against the move.
An Irish Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman warned it would "not look favourably" on any form of amnesty for security forces or paramilitaries.
"There are no amnesties from prosecution provided for in the Good Friday Agreement or any subsequent agreements including the Stormont House Agreement," he said.
"The government's position is and will remain that the rule of law, including the requirement under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, for effective investigations of unlawful killings, must be upheld by all responsible authorities." Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams accused London of an "act of bad faith" and said neither his party nor the Irish government had been consulted about the proposal while the SDLP and Alliance also voiced their opposition.
Amnesty International said any statute of limitations imposed to block investigations for killings or torture carried out by the security forces would be "an utter betrayal of victims' fundamental rights to justice".
Relatives For Justice said the proposal was "a slap in the face to victims of state violence - it once again casts them as second class citizens".
A range of mechanisms to deal with the Troubles legacy were agreed by the parties in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement - an amnesty was not among them.
The agreed proposals included a new independent investigatory unit, a truth recovery body and an oral archive.
They were put on hold due to ongoing political disagreement with republicans fearing the UK Government would cite national security as a reason to withhold documents from victims' families.
Secretary of State James Brokenshire announced in September that he was planning to launch a public consultation exercise in an attempt to move the situation on.
It was expected to focus on the Stormont House Agreement mechanisms, but Sinn Fein emerged from its meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May (above) yesterday claiming that a new statute of limitation proposal had been inserted into the consultation document.
A Northern Ireland Office spokesman said the Government believed the Stormont House Agreement proposals still represented the "best means" to address legacy issues.
However, he said that for it to be an "open and meaningful consultation" the public should have its say on alternative approaches, such as the statute of limitations proposal.
Support for an amnesty is strong among DUP and Tory MPs. However, UUP MLA Doug Beattie (inset) said legal experts believed it would "inevitably have to be extended to cover all Troubles-related deaths and open the door to a general amnesty for everyone, including terrorists".
He added: "We need to be very careful that in our desire to prevent former police officers and soldiers from being the victims of a witch hunt, we do not inadvertently open the door to an amnesty for the very terrorists they risked their lives to defeat."
SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly added: "The British Government cannot allow any amnesty for any violent perpetrators.
"Victims and survivors of the Troubles deserve truth and justice. The British state and others must deliver that justice. No-one should be off-limits to the rule of law." Alliance Leader Naomi Long said: "Justice and the rule of law cannot be adjusted to make people differently accountable for their actions.
"In all cases, we should follow the evidence to wherever that leads.
"Members of the armed forces should be treated exactly the same as anyone else in a similar situation."