Belfast Telegraph

Warning over Troubles legal call

Abandoning prosecutions of Troubles-related murders would cause the wounds of Northern Ireland's past to fester even further, Labour has warned.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis criticised Northern Ireland's attorney general John Larkin QC, who provoked outrage after also saying he favoured ruling out further inquests and other state investigations into the crimes committed during the 30-year conflict.

The chief legal adviser to the Stormont Executive insisted a line should be drawn under offences perpetrated before the signing of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.

But Mr Lewis told Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers in the Commons today: " The problem with last week's proposals from Northern Ireland's Attorney General is that they will neither deliver nor justice to victims or their families. Indeed instead of healing the wounds of the past, they would cause them to fester even further."

Ms Villiers reaffirmed the Government has no plans to follow Mr Larkin's advice, adding to Mr Lewis: "I don't think that's a viable solution to the past in Northern Ireland.

"It received almost universal condemnation and I acknowledge, as you said, there would be very significant problems and many victims I think would feel real concern if that was the route people advocated we follow."

Labour's former Northern Ireland minister Paul Goggins also told Ms Villiers: "Have you been offered any explanation for why the Attorney General in Northern Ireland, who has ordered the reopening of more than 40 historic inquests, now seems to believe that they should be abandoned?"

Ms Villiers acknowledged there was a "degree of contraction" in Mr Larkin's comments, which were made "patently on his own behalf".

Alliance MP Naomi Long (Belfast East) also asked for assurances that the Government would cooperate and properly resource any comprehensive process emerging from the Haass talks, adding to Ms Villiers that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) should be allowed to focus their limited resources on policing the present.

Ms Long stressed the need to protect the community from " those who wish to drag us back to the past" from both loyalist and republican backgrounds.

The Haass negotiations are aimed at finding political resolutions to long-standing disputes on legacy matters, parades and flags, to be properly resourced.

Ms Villiers replied to Ms Long: "The determination is that Northern Ireland will not be dragged back to its past and there is universal condemnation for the disgraceful attacks we've seen in recent days.

"The Government is strongly supportive of the Haass process, we very much welcomed its establishment, we pressed for action by the executive to consider these very divisive issues, we'll of course consider very seriously the outcome of that process, we will consider what resources we can deploy to supporting the outcome of that process within the constraints of the budgets available to us."

Democratic Unionist MP Ian Paisley ( North Antrim) asked Ms Villiers during Northern Ireland questions: "Will you let the Commons know what action you would be prepared to take to ensure that justice is done and seen to be done, and not - as a senior law officer in Northern Ireland wants - to abandon justice and the process of law?"

The Northern Ireland Secretary replied: "This Government is entirely committed to the integrity of the rule of law, we will maintain that and I also believe that it's important the outcome of the Haass discussions also abide by that principle and are consistent with maintaining the integrity of the law."

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