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Viewpoint: Amnesty by another name is no solution

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Westminster's legacy proposals are a de facto Troubles amnesty

Westminster's legacy proposals are a de facto Troubles amnesty

Westminster's legacy proposals are a de facto Troubles amnesty

Today families bereaved by the Troubles will be told officially that they can never expect justice for the loss of their loved ones. Secretary of State Brandon Lewis is expected to announce that there will be no prosecutions of any terrorist who committed their crimes before 1998.

It won’t be called an amnesty but that is what it is and it will apply to members of the security forces as well as former paramilitaries.

The de facto amnesty will form part of proposals on dealing with the legacy of the past and the government wants to pass appropriate legislation in the autumn.

For decades the families of those killed during the Troubles and those who survived murderous attacks clung to the faint hope that one day at least some of them would see justice done, even if it meant the guilty would only serve two years in jail. That hope is now extinguished.

The statute of limitations on prosecutions for past crimes is opposed by the main political parties here, the Irish government and victims’ groups. All may have differing agendas for wanting prosecutions but it seems clear that London is intent on railroading the legislation through.

However, if the Tories believe that this will solve the problems of legacy then they should heed what happened in Parliament yesterday. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood used Parliamentary privilege to name Soldier F, the former paratrooper who had been facing charges of murder relating to deaths on Bloody Sunday and who had been granted anonymity.

This is not the first time such a tactic has been used in the House of Commons but it is still divisive and one which could lead to copycat claims. While Soldier F had been charged, although those charges were later dropped, it is possible that MPs could use their privilege to accuse named individuals of terrorist crimes, even without evidence to back that up.

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Outing people for alleged crimes would only add to the pain endured by the bereaved and cause political uproar. Instead of a proper judicial system it could lead to a free-for-all of accusation.

It is not too late for the government to have a rethink. The impetus for the amnesty is the government’s desire to ensure that military veterans do not face prosecutions, but that distorts any chance of bereaved families gaining justice in the future.

Their decades of pain and despair will pass down generations, keeping the past alive and stunting hopes of creating a society where people want to rebuild their lives.


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