By Cate McCurry, PA
Former police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan has called the British government’s proposals for a so-called amnesty in Northern Ireland “unacceptable” and a “denial of the rule of law”.
She said the plans for a statute of limitations were a denial of justice.
Ms O’Loan was speaking at a cross-community event, where a group of Troubles victims discussed the UK government’s legacy proposals.
She said the proposals came as a “an extraordinary and terrible shock” to the people of Northern Ireland.
“They came in direct contradiction to all the promises which they have made,” she added.
“The proposals which we had for dealing with the past were not adequate, but they were something, and they did include investigation and the possibility of prosecution.
“What seems to have happened is that the government have bowed to a small but very powerful constituency, which had been lobbying for an end to all Troubles-related investigations.”
She added: “The government’s proposals are unacceptable. The first is that they are a denial of the rule of law.
“They contradict everything we have taught the world about justice and truth and criminal procedure.
“The second is that the victims’ concerns are not addressed at all in the proposals, despite the assertions of government.
“Amnesty is a denial of justice and it is wrong. The victims were also not consulted.
“This proposal, which will take away all legal rights from all the victims in Northern Ireland and elsewhere of the Troubles, has never been subject to normal consultation.”
In July, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis announced plans for a statute of limitations which would end all prosecutions for Troubles incidents up to April 1998, and would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries.
The proposals, which British prime minister Boris Johnson has previously 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.
Raymond McCord, whose son was killed by loyalists, was among those to speak at the event.
“Boris Johnson tells us it’ll help us move on. I want to know, move on from what?” Mr McCord said.
“I have no answer for that. He hasn’t told us what we’re moving on from and what we’re going to move on to.
“It’s the words of a fool and the words of man who is afraid of the truth. We aren’t scared of it.”
Julie Hambleton, whose sister was killed in the IRA’s 1974 bomb attack in Birmingham, said: “I believe we need to unravel republican, loyalist and state collusion, which we now know ran so deep during the conflict and continues to run deeper than we ever thought.
“Grievances will only continue if victims are denied truth and justice and accountability. This wasn’t a dirty war, this was a toxic conflict, war, terrorist campaign.
“Those in government are hell-bent on protecting their positions at all costs. Amnesia versus accountability. What will it be?”
Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was killed in the Omagh bombing, said: “Boris Johnson says this new bill will improve community relations and break down barriers.
“Well the people on this panel, we don’t need to break down the barriers, we’ve broken them down ourselves.
“We come from different backgrounds. We don’t always agree but what we do agree is that the Government needs to be held to account for what happened.”
Eugene Reavey, whose brothers John Martin, Brian and Anthony were shot dead by the loyalist paramilitary Glenanne Gang in 1976, said the amnesty is “a scandal”.
“We have been fighting this case for years and years and years,” he said.
“If there’s not going to be any justice, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Sarah McKeegan, whose police officer father was killed, said: “Boris Johnson is right in stating that the current focus on criminal justice is not working, but he’s most disingenuous in how he proposes to address it.
“I don’t believe any new plans for truth and recovery process will be in any way victim-centred. How can only truths be known when the state are hiding behind public interest immunity certificates.”
Billy McManus, whose father was killed in the loyalist attack on Sean Graham bookmakers in Belfast in 1992, said: “This amnesty is nothing but hiding the truth.
“British soldiers, RUC officers, UDR, innocent people on both sides and they want an amnesty. Ask yourself why.
“The British government has the blood of murder on their hands and they want to wash it away with an amnesty.”
Kate Nash, whose brother William was killed on Bloody Sunday, said: “I will never accept an amnesty. Not for soldiers, not for IRA, not for UVF, or whoever.
“You cannot put people above the law. You can’t have innocent people murdered.
“The state should have a higher standard and I think you would hold them to a higher standard. They have got to be made accountable for what they did in this country.”
John Teggart, whose father died in the Ballymurphy massacre, said: “Murder should be investigated. The legal system should be used in every way.
“We can’t have a government that change the laws.”