Belfast Telegraph

Given failures of the past, the time has now come to act on behalf of the victims

By Danny Kinahan

The Gaddafi regime, through supplying finance, weapons and explosives to the IRA for a 25-year period, bears its share of responsibility for the death and injury inflicted on many victims.

There is no doubting that its role aiding and abetting the IRA terror campaign extended and exacerbated the Troubles, increasing loss of life and suffering.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee inquiry has examined the failure of successive governments to pursue compensation from Libya on behalf of the many victims of Gaddafi-sponsored terrorism.

The inquiry received evidence from a number of those whose loved ones were killed in IRA attacks, as well as former senior members of the government, including former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who appeared before the committee.

IRA atrocities have left behind a lifetime of suffering for the families of those murdered and many of the injured.

The Hyde Park bomb has personal significance for me, as the four soldiers killed were colleagues of mine from the Household Cavalry.

One of those murdered that day was Lieutenant Anthony Daly. He was only 23. I know that because I served as best man at his wedding four weeks before he was murdered and later commanded his burial party.

The Hyde Park families were at Westminster last week to raise awareness of their campaign to bring a civil case against John Downey, the chief suspect, who was able to walk free from court because he was in receipt of a comfort letter sent to on-the-run IRA terror suspects.

Shamefully the families have twice been denied legal aid, and the onus is on the government to step in and provide exceptional funding so they can bring forward civil proceedings against John Downey. I would urge people to visit and donate to their campaign.

As the committee's report has documented, the UK government has failed victims by not securing compensation from Libya, unlike the American, French and German governments when their citizens fell victim to terrorism sponsored by the Libyan state.

When Libya was being brought in from the fringes of the international community in 2003 by the then Labour government, securing compensation should have been high on the agenda.

Instead the removal of potential chemical and nuclear weapons, and more concerning, commercial interests seemingly took precedence.

Ulster Unionist MPs Martin Smyth and David Burnside raised these matters at the time with the government, and Parliamentary questions demonstrate that the government was made aware of the demands from victims.

While the report has suggested the most preferable option is to secure compensation in a voluntary agreement with Libya, if this is not possible the government must establish its own reparations fund, preferably using some of the £9.5 billion of Gaddafi-linked frozen assets in the United Kingdom to finance it.

Time is running out for the victims and they require support. The committee report correctly states that if agreeing compensation for the victims from Libya does not look likely in the short to medium term by the end of 2017, then the government should then bring forward its own plans.

I, along with my party colleagues Lord Empey, Tom Elliott MP and other supportive MPs and Peers, have on numerous occasions met with ministers and officials, pushing for this course of action.

Lord Empey has passed legislation through the House of Lords seeking to use the frozen assets to compensate victims, and Tom Elliott was also bringing forward a debate in the House of Commons to raise awareness of the issue.

Unfortunately the snap election and reduction of Parliamentary time meant it could not progress any further.

In all our representations to date, the government has appeared very reluctant to go down the path of using some of the billions of frozen Libyan assets to compensate the victims, citing the need for diplomatic agreement.

In the next Parliament, Ulster Unionists will continue to use all our influence to press the government to take action.

There have been too many missed opportunities in the past to secure compensation.

The government must now act to recognise the victims of IRA terrorism and Libya's role in their suffering.

  • Danny Kinahan is Ulster Unionist MP for South Antrim, and a Member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster

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