…By Henry George for TDPel Media.
Lord Caine, a minister at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), has defended the proposed amendments to the controversial Government Bill concerning the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles.
He emphasized that the changes are not intended to conceal state wrongdoing.
Although he acknowledged the draft legislation’s challenging nature for victims of the conflict, he urged them to give the proposals a fair assessment.
However, the Bill has faced strong opposition from victims’ groups, major Stormont parties, and the Irish government.
Establishment of a New Commission and Immunity Offer:
One of the contentious aspects of the new legal framework is the offer of immunity from prosecution for perpetrators who cooperate with the newly proposed commission.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill aims to create this commission to uncover facts related to unsolved deaths during the Troubles.
Additionally, the Bill seeks to halt future civil cases and inquests connected to killings during the conflict.
Changes to Inquest Provisions:
Previously, the legislation allowed ongoing inquests that had already begun substantive hearings before May of the current year to proceed to conclusion.
However, Lord Caine’s amendments modify this provision, stating that all ongoing inquests, except those at the verdict stage, will cease on May 1, 2024.
Lord Caine assured that the incomplete inquests would be transferred to the new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), headed by former Northern Ireland Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan.
Lord Caine emphasized that the purpose of the new body is to establish the facts of each case, similar to an inquest, albeit through a slightly different process.
Reiterating the Focus on Providing Answers and Information:
Lord Caine emphasized that the intent of the Bill is not to orchestrate a cover-up.
Instead, it aims to provide more answers and information to families seeking them.
He acknowledged that the commission’s investigations might reveal embarrassing information about the British state and others involved.
Lord Caine stated that he is prepared for such revelations.
Current Stage of the Bill and Additional Amendments:
The Bill is currently at the report stage in the House of Lords and will subsequently return to the House of Commons.
The government aims to pass the final legislation by the end of the summer.
Lord Caine introduced several other amendments to the Bill.
These include clarifying that the commission has the power to conduct full criminal investigations in cases where perpetrators do not receive immunity.
Individuals convicted under these circumstances will not benefit from early release provisions outlined in the Good Friday Agreement.
The fine for non-compliance with the commission has been raised from £1,000 to £5,000, and those found guilty of misleading the truth recovery body can be prosecuted and face a potential two-year jail sentence.
Other amendments place additional duties on the ICRIR, such as offering victims and their families the opportunity to submit personal impact statements and ensuring compliance with human rights laws during examinations of historical cases.
Defending the Controversial Immunity Provision:
Lord Caine defended the contentious immunity provision in the Bill, highlighting that it is offered in limited and specific circumstances.
He acknowledged the difficulties associated with this concept but stated that it serves as an incentive to encourage cooperation and provide greater information about Troubles-related cases to families, victims, and survivors.
Opposition to the Bill:
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar reiterated the Irish government’s opposition to the Bill, stating that the amendments introduced do not go far enough to address the fundamental concerns.
He emphasized the need for any response to the legacy of the Troubles to be victim-centered and victim-oriented
. Varadkar expressed disagreement with the de facto amnesty proposed by the Bill, not only for former Army personnel but also for former terrorists.
Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International UK’s Northern Ireland deputy director, criticized the Bill and its amendments, arguing that they worsen the situation for victims and will ultimately deny truth and justice.
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