By Rebecca Black, PA
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie has accused the Irish Government of inaction in reinvestigating Troubles crimes committed in its jurisdiction.
Mr Beattie also accused Sinn Féin of “hypocrisy” during a recalled sitting of the Stormont Assembly which denounced contentious proposals by the UK government to introduce a statute of limitations on crimes committed during the Troubles.
He voiced opposition to any move towards an amnesty.
— Ulster Unionist (@uuponline) July 20, 2021
“We have been quite clear that the soldier, the policeman, a terrorist, a member of the public or a politician – if you break the law, then you should face the law,” he said.
“And everybody deserves the opportunity to get justice. It doesn’t mean they always will, but we cannot take away that hope.”
Mr Beattie went on to query what the Irish Government has done to deal with the past.
“As I stand here and say to the British government, ‘you’re wrong on this, your command paper is wrong’ … I can say that to the Irish Government because they have produced nothing, no command papers,” he said.
“Thousands of attacks emanated from Ireland across the border to maim and kill our citizens and they retreated back across the border, and they are not investigating.
“Where is their Historical Investigations Unit, where is their legacy investigations branch, what are they doing. The answer to nothing.”
'Silence is as bad as these recommendations'
Mr Beattie also challenged Sinn Féin over how many times their TDs had they raised legacy issues in the Dail.
“How many times have you stood up and said ‘why are you not doing more about legacy and the attacks that emanated from this soil into Northern Ireland and further afield’ – if you’re not then you’re failing as well,” he said.
“Silence is as bad as putting forward these recommendations. Putting forward nothing is as bad as putting forward these recommendations.”
Mr Beattie went on to further question Sinn Féin’s position on legacy with the link it had with the Provisional IRA which murdered hundreds of people during the Troubles.
“Mary-Lou McDonald said, only last year, that the campaign of terror was justified and yet people stand up and say they are supporting victims,” he said.
“There is a hypocrisy in this place that is absolutely astounding and it is coming from all quarters.”
On Tuesday, Stormont MLAs backed a non-binding motion denouncing the UK government's contentious proposals to introduce a statute of limitations on crimes committed during the Northern Ireland conflict.
The motion, tabled by SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon, passed by way of an oral vote, without any dissenting voices, at the end of a two-hour debate at Stormont.
Earlier, Ms Mallon told the chamber that a prosecution amnesty would not be acceptable in any other modern democracy in the world.
Opening the debate, she accused the UK government of attempting to sweep victims’ pain under the carpet.
Today's recall of the Assembly is the opportunity for all parties to unite in opposition to the British Government's amnesty & to state clearly our shared determination to finally and properly deal with legacy. pic.twitter.com/7s4GwegYPb
— Nichola Mallon (@NicholaMallon) July 20, 2021
She said the proposals would let “perpetrators, state and paramilitary, walk free and instead condemn the victims and their families to a lifetime of pain and suffering through the denial of hope, truth and justice”.
Ms Mallon branded the proposals a “unilateral move” by the UK government to deliver a “Tory party answer to a problem created by that same party and its backbench MPs”.
“Backbenchers who have created a bogus myth that an endless parade of veterans are being dragged through the courts here to answer for their past.
“When the fact is that is not true,” she said.
“Rather than debunk the myth and deal in facts, Boris Johnson and Brandon Lewis have decided to cruelly abandon victims and survivors as they play to the gallery.”
As the debate took place in Belfast, some victims of terrorism travelled to Downing Street in London to express opposition.
Other campaigners gathered outside Parliament Buildings at Stormont.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis announced last week that he intends to introduce legislation to create a proposed statute of limitations which would end all prosecutions for incidents up to April 1998 and would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries.
The proposals, which British prime minister Mr Johnson said would allow Northern Ireland to “draw a line under the Troubles”, would also end all legacy inquests and civil actions related to the conflict.
But the plan has been heavily criticised by all the main political parties in Northern Ireland as well as the Irish Government, and a range of victims’ and survivors’ groups.
Ms Mallon said the amnesty proposal had devastated and re-traumatised survivors and bereaved families.
“It hasn’t drawn a line... It has made the situation worse,” she said.
Addressing the chamber during the debate, DUP MLA Mervyn Storey said victims “cannot and should not be ignored in this way”.
“The Secretary of State seems to have chosen a path which finds equivalence between the soldier and police officer, and those who planted the bomb or pulled the trigger,” he said. “This is morally reprehensible.”
The DUP MLA also criticised Sinn Féin for accusing the UK government of “covering up the truth”, highlighting that the IRA was responsible for many Troubles crimes.
Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the proposals would deny bereaved families their rights.
“The British political system cannot handle the truth,” she told MLAs.
“The British Government fears the bravery, the courage and resilience of the families.”
Ms O’Neill added: “The legacy proposals to deny families any legal redress to justice is a statement of moral bankruptcy.
“The British Government approach is cynical because they’re seeking to insulate their forces from legal challenges by shutting down the established legal options that are open to families.
“Today we must send a very clear message that any political attempts to interfere in live and pending legal proceedings will be resisted by everyone across this House.”
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said the legacy proposals were “neither victim-centred or victim-focused”.