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UK Government announces statute of limitations on Troubles prosecutions, including British Army soldiers

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the proposals are “measured” and “balanced”.

'Twenty years on and still killing our children' on Ballymoney Street in Belfast, August 1989.
'Twenty years on and still killing our children' on Ballymoney Street in Belfast, August 1989.
Image: PA

THE UK GOVERNMENT will bring in a statute of limitations to end all prosecutions related to the Troubles before 1998. 

Speaking in the House of Commons this afternoon, NI Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said the Troubles caused “untold damage to all aspects of society in Northern Ireland”.

“It is clear that the current system for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles is not working,” he added.

Lewis said that the focus on criminal investigations, is increasingly unlikely to deliver successful criminal justice outcomes.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said the statue will “apply equally to all troubles related incidents.”

We know that the prospect of the end of criminal prosecutions will be difficult for some to accept and this is not a position that we take lightly.

“We’ve come to view that this is the best and only way to facilitate an effective information retrieval and provision process. And the best way to help Northern Ireland move further along the road to reconciliation,” Lewis said.

It is, in reality, a painful recognition of the very reality of where we are.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the plans earlier in the Commons, saying: “The people of Northern Ireland must, if we possibly can allow them to, move forwards now.

He said the proposals are “measured” and “balanced”. 

“The sad fact remains that there are many members of the armed services who continue to face the threat of vexatious prosecutions well into their 70s, 80s and later, and we’re finally bringing forward a solution to this problem, to enable the province of Northern Ireland to draw a line under the Troubles, to enable the people of Northern Ireland to move forward.”

Speaking before Lewis’s announcement, Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney said that this is the UK government “outlining its position” and that the Irish government has a “very different view… as do NI political parties & victims groups”. 

“This is not a fait accompli,” the minister said on Twitter.

“SOSNI [Brandon Lewis] & I have committed to an inclusive dialog to try to agree consensus & that’s underway.”

Speaking to reporters today, Coveney said that many conversations he’s had with the Secretary of State made it clear that the UK Government was moving away from the approach of Stormont House in relation to justice.

“What the British Government is now saying is that they don’t think there should be a legal route to justice any longer for Troubles related crimes.

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I don’t believe that reflects what the majority of the people in Northern Ireland want, it’s certainly not what the political parties want, and victims groups who have spoken to me certainly want the option of a justice-based truth approach in court, as well as the option of a conviction.

He said that it was unfortunate that the media had reported it as a ‘fait acompli’.

“That isn’t the commitment from the British Government to the Irish Government,” he said, adding that it was simply a “contribution” to a discussion on what all parties want to happen.

Our starting position is Stormont House… we still think it’s a good mechanism. Some will say Stormont House hasn’t worked, because legacy hasn’t proceeded, that’s because Stormont House hasn’t been implemented, so of course it hasn’t worked.

The families of those killed by soldiers in west Belfast in 1971 urged against a statute of limitations on Troubles prosecutions.

Sandra Peake, chief executive of the Wave Trauma Centre, also said a statute of limitations “removes the glimmer of hope” from victims seeking justice.

With reporting from Céimin Burke

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