THE Government’s decision to bring forward legislation to ban all prosecutions related to the Troubles is a “morally empty response” that will create “further heartbreak, frustration and anger” for the victims, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the Most Revd John McDowell, has said.
During PMQs in the House of Commons on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that the proposal would allow Northern Ireland to “draw a line under the Troubles”. The decision had not been taken lightly, the NI Secretary, Brandon Lewis, said.
A statute of limitations — a law which prevents legal proceedings being taken after a certain time-period — would apply equally to all Troubles-related incidents before 1998, to former members of the security forces and ex-paramilitaries alike, it was confirmed.
Responding on Thursday, Archbishop McDowell said: “The degree of suffering endured by victims over the years is not something that can be moved on from. It needs to be acknowledged in the full variety of its expression, and dealt with over the long term.”
Failure to deal with this legacy, he said, “has probably been the biggest political and societal failing since the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The one principle which all involved have been agreed on is that a general amnesty would be a morally empty response. Regardless of the name it goes under, a general amnesty is what the Government of the United Kingdom is now planning to put in place.”
He continued: “In a repeat of a dismal pattern, once again political interests in Great Britain have been used as the criteria for settling policy in Northern Ireland. Imperfect as they may have been, the carefully worked-out provisions of the Stormont House Agreement have been set aside by one of the parties to the Agreement. Of course, that means a further erosion of trust in those who have been entrusted with just and fair government.
“To believe that any process of reconciliation can be advanced by a measure that betrays the trust of victims, and of most ordinary citizens, indicates a profound ignorance of human nature and human suffering, and of the particular conditions of society in Northern Ireland.”
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Eamon Martin, said that victims would see the ban on all Troubles-related criminal and civil actions, and legacy inquests, as a “betrayal of trust” and a denial of justice. “It is disturbing that victims and survivors — those have paid the highest price for the fragile peace we all enjoy today — once more feel marginalised and neglected.”
He was particularly disappointed, he said, with Mr Johnson’s “naïve comments” about drawing a line under the Troubles. “Dealing with the legacy of our shared past is not an easy task. It is a complex undertaking which belongs to all of us. It has no ‘quick-fix’. No ‘line’ can be drawn to relieve the deep hurt still carried in the aftermath of years of violence, death and life-changing injury.”