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Brandon Lewis says UK’s Troubles legacy bill will put information for families at its core


Brandon Lewis. Picture by Peter Morrison

Brandon Lewis. Picture by Peter Morrison

Brandon Lewis. Picture by Peter Morrison

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has said a government bill addressing the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland will put information recovery "at its core".

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill was laid before parliament last week and proposes replacing police investigations and court cases with an information recovery body which would offer immunity to those who co-operate with reports for victims' families.

A blanket amnesty approach was initially proposed last year but has now been changed to conditional immunity.

Opening the second reading debate for the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill in the Commons, Mr Lewis said: "We were clear when we published our command paper last July that we would listen to feedback with an open mind.

"Over the last 10 months, my team and I have done just that, hearing the pain and perspectives of people from all view points and communities.

"During those conversations we have repeatedly had to confront what is a very painful reality, that with more than two-thirds of Troubles-related cases now 40 years old, the prospect of successful prosecutions is vanishingly small.

"And that's why this legislation does mark a definitive shift in focus to put information recovery for families at its core, in recognition of that."

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Mr Lewis said in his work, he sees many examples of a "transformed, inclusive, peaceful Northern Ireland. Yet despite this exceptional progress, the Troubles do continue to cast a shadow over all those impacted and wider society."

He said successive government have not been able to resolve the legacy of the Troubles owing to its sensitivity and complexity, adding: "But what we cannot do, is as a result of that, stand by and do nothing. We cannot let the status quo continue. To do that would be a dereliction of our duty."

Mr Lewis also said people will be required to acknowledge their involvement in serious Troubles-related incidents and reveal what they know in order to gain immunity, adding: "These provisions will also apply to individuals who have previously been provided with so-called on-the-run letters, letters of comfort.

"These letters when issued confirmed whether or not an individual was wanted by the police based on evidence held at that time.

"However, I want to be crystal clear that these letters have absolutely no legal standing and cannot be used to prevent prosecution under this new approach."

For Labour, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle said the Government's plans do not give enough support to victims and are far too lenient on those who committed crimes.

He said: "The Government argue that due to the passage of time we have a duty to empower this body (the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery) to grant immunity to killers in return for information they have about their actions.

"There is still the possibility of prosecution for those who fail to provide an account of their actions to the commission, but the bar for immunity is set so low it is hard to see prosecutions happening in practice."

Ahead of the debate, some victims' groups staged protests in Belfast and Londonderry.

Around 100 protestors gathered outside the Northern Ireland Office headquarters in the centre of Belfast in opposition to the Government's introduction of the legislation.

The protest featured a number of relatives from families who lost members during the Troubles.

Many of the protestors carried photographs of their lost relatives and placards opposing any amnesty for Troubles crimes.

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