Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: People don't want an amnesty... but will London listen?

David Lidington indicated the scale of the response to the legacy consultation came as a surprise to the Government (Andrew Milligan/PA)
David Lidington indicated the scale of the response to the legacy consultation came as a surprise to the Government (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The message from the people of Northern Ireland from the legacy consultation is loud and clear. They don't want a Troubles amnesty.

It doesn't matter who was responsible for a particular incident. The public believes that republicans, loyalists or security force members guilty of wrong-doing should be held accountable.

The opinion of most of the 17,500 people who took part in the consultation is directly at odds with the position of senior Government figures and influential Tory backbenchers. So keen are they for an amnesty for former soldiers, they'll agree to letting republicans and loyalist killers escape justice too. But the view of the public here was unambiguous in the Northern Ireland Office's own document yesterday.

"The clear majority of all respondents to the consultation argued that a statute of limitations or amnesty would not be appropriate for Troubles-related matters," it said.

"Many were clear that victims, survivors and families are entitled to pursue criminal justice outcomes and such a move could risk progress towards reconciliation."

Support for an amnesty may be strong in military circles in Britain but notably it was not among former security force members here.

"Some argued against any type of statute of limitations or amnesty for former soldiers and police," the NIO document stated. "They felt those they represented would have no difficulty in answering for their actions and would wish to see terrorist organisations and their members being held accountable.

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"In addition, they felt that granting blanket immunity from prosecution could create a misleading impression of moral equivalence between security forces and terrorists."

The overwhelming opposition here to an amnesty should by rights confine the issue to the political dustbin at Westminster once and for all.

But the range of powerful figures supporting the measure means that's not the case.

De facto Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington yesterday declined to rule out a statute of limitations for veterans.

Indeed, expect one to be very much on the table if Boris Johnson wins the Tory leadership later this month.

Former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson will be a key player in the new Cabinet and he is strongly in favour of an amnesty.

In a letter to Theresa May last year, he wrote: "It is clear to me that our veterans need the protection of a statute of limitations in respect of Troubles-related offences. If this means a wider amnesty, so be it. It is time to give our veterans the protection they deserve."

Mrs May didn't run with his proposal but the new occupant of Number 10 is likely to be far more sympathetic.

The most frustrating issue for victims across the board is how long they have been waiting.

Five years on from the Stormont House Agreement on legacy, we are no nearer to implementing the mechanisms outlined.

There were no policy documents forthcoming yesterday, nor were plans announced for working groups to be set up at Stormont and Westminster to find a way forward. The Government needs to quit stalling on the issue and start delivering.

At the Court of Appeal in Belfast yesterday a ruling forced the PSNI to set up a full, independent investigation into alleged collusion between the security forces and the UVF's Glenanne Gang, which is linked to 120 murders.

These are families who, like so many others across Northern Ireland, have been failed down through the decades.

Tracey Mulholland, whose grandfather Arthur Mulholland, was killed in 1975, said: "This isn't going away - there are grandchildren coming down the line and this will go on. We will fight so that truth and justice can be given."

They are words the powerful people in Westminster should pay heed to.

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