Amnesty International has called on MPs who “respect the rule of law” to oppose the Government’s controversial legacy bill as it “gives murderers a free pass”.
The organisation’s Northern Ireland deputy director, Grainne Teggart, made the appeal as the legislation enters committee stage in the House of Commons today.
Relatives of children killed during the Troubles last night told their stories to MPs in an event which SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, said he hoped would persuade them to vote against the bill.
Ms Teggart said: “This bill gives murderers and those responsible for torture a free pass — it is repugnant that the UK government is now deciding who in society will get justice for such heinous crimes.
“The bill cruelly removes victims’ opportunity for justice — this simply cannot be acceptable to any MP who respects the rule of law.
“It is so fundamentally flawed that it cannot be fixed and must now be withdrawn or rejected. What is morally wrong cannot be made legally right.
“Two days for committee stage is a disgracefully limited amount of time to consider such a significant piece of legislation. The UK Government is curtailing the opportunity for proper scrutiny and further compounding the insult to victims.”
Martin McGavigan was among a group of six families taking part in a special event in Parliament that aims to bring the reality of their experiences to Westminster.
His sister Annette was shot dead by British soldiers during a riot in the Bogside area of Derry in 1971. She was just 14-years-old and still wearing her school uniform.
He recalled his mother "talking to Annette's clothes that she was murdered in, the blood-stained slippers, the school uniform". He said he hoped the legislation wouldn’t go through because “we need answers, we need truth, we need justice for our loved ones — you just don't brush it under the carpet and say move on”.
Mary Feeney-Morrison, whose 14-year-old sister Kathleen was killed by an IRA sniper in Derry in 1973, also took part in the event. In 2005, the IRA made an official apology to her family, but nobody has been convicted for the murder.
Ms Feeney-Morrison said: "When my sister was shot dead, when we buried her nobody came to us and said, ‘Are you okay?’ That's widespread around the north of Ireland — there was no assistance, there was no help for anybody.
"You just had to get on with it. You just blended it into your daily life while you were fighting mentally."
Both families said they had been helped by a production staged by the Derry Playhouse in which their children helped tell their stories.
Ms Feeney-Morrison said seeing her daughter, Sarah, perform her story had helped her "heal", while Mr McGavigan said seeing his daughter Maria on stage had made him "proud" and enabled him to talk more openly about his experience.
A stripped-down version of that production was brought to Westminster at the invitation of Mr Eastwood who hoped the families' testimonies would persuade MPs to oppose the controversial legislation.
He said: "Particularly on the Tory benches there has been a fairly cavalier attitude to the impact that this bill will have on ordinary people's lives. I've not met a victim yet who supports it. It's important they have the opportunity to see for themselves the impact that the past has had on people."
The SDLP leader said it was a a “fairly simple” test for Westminster politicians. “Are all of those MPs who are prepared to pontificate about Northern Ireland and the past prepared to walk up two flights of stairs and listen to them? We have tried to make it as easy as possible for them, it will say an awful lot about them if they don't turn up,” he added.