Government seeks to shield soldiers

IssueAugust - September 2021
News by Rebecca Elson-Watkins

On 14 July, the UK government announced proposals to end all prosecutions for crimes committed during Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’ – and all related civil cases, inquests and complaints about police wrongdoing.

One effect would be that no British military personnel – or loyalist or republican paramilitaries – could be prosecuted for murdering civilians, so long as their crimes were committed before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Out of the 3,600 people killed during the Troubles, 3,000 murders remain unsolved. There are currently 1,200 active police investigations related to the Troubles.

All the political parties in Northern Ireland have condemned the latest move, as has the Irish government and groups representing bereaved families.

The amnesty would, for example, cover the war crimes committed during the Ballymurphy massacre in Belfast in August 1971 (when British paratroopers killed 10 unarmed civilians) and the Bloody Sunday march in Derry in January 1972 (when soldiers from the same battalion killed 14 unarmed civilians).

A fresh inquest earlier this year found that the 10 people murdered in the Ballymurphy Massacre were ‘entirely innocent’ unarmed civilians.

The inquest said that nine of them were definitely killed by British soldiers.

The inquest could not determine who fired the bullet that killed the tenth person.

The inquest did not consider an eleventh death. Pat (Paddy) McCarthy died of a heart attack during the same operation in Ballymurphy after a rifle was placed in his mouth and the trigger pulled. It was unloaded.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaign manager, said: ‘The UK government is showing an appalling and offensive disregard for victims; grossly dismissing their suffering and rights to truth, justice and accountability.

‘In pursuing a statute of limitations to put state forces and other perpetrators above the law and beyond accountability, the government is debasing natural justice.’

The group ‘Relatives for Justice’ (RfJ) was established in 1991 by relatives of people killed in the Northern Ireland conflict. It ‘provides support to the bereaved and injured of all the actors to the conflict on an inclusive and non-judgemental basis’.

The group expressed its ‘anger’ at these ‘vindictive proposals’, calling the amnesty ‘the mother of all cover ups’.

RfJ pointed out that, while the media had focused on the amnesty, ‘this has drowned out the ending of inquests, the ending of Police Ombudsman investigations and the ending of civil litigation by families.’

RfJ pointed to over 900 civil cases in the courts regarding actions by all actors to the conflict; over 450 complaints with the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland; over 45 inquests waiting to be heard and 40 awaiting progress.

The group said: ‘This marks the single worst day for all victims during our peace process. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Secretary of State Brandon Lewis have combined to assault the rights and sensibilities of victims and survivors from across our community.’