Britain’s parliament granted final consent on Wednesday to a contentious piece of legislation poised to offer amnesty to militants and former soldiers implicated in years of Northern Ireland violence. This comes with a caveat – they must fully cooperate with the formation of a new investigative entity.
This law has drawn heavy criticism, condemned as a subversion of justice by human rights organizations, family members of victims, and the whole political spectrum on the island of Ireland, with both Irish nationals and British unionists expressing their disgust. The Irish government has vocally expressed its intention to contemplate a legal challenge.
Eugene Reavey, a man who tragically lost three brothers in 1976 to pro-British militant violence without prosecution, responded to the law’s passage saying, “We cannot give an amnesty to killers. That is not justice.” He criticized the development as “unbelievably bad news” and “despicable.”
Over a period of three decades, the confrontation between pro-British ‘loyalist’ paramilitary groups, Irish nationalist militants advocating for a united Ireland, and the British military, claimed around 3,600 lives. Although a peace deal was struck in 1998, it essentially ended the conflict.
The British stand is that chances of convicting people associated with incidents dating back by over half a century are diminishing, stressing the need for this law to finally put the conflict to rest.
The legislation seeks to establish a novel Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, promising immunity to those who collaborate with investigations. It effectively brings to a halt full inquests, criminal prosecutions, or civil claims relating to crimes from the ‘Troubles’ era. However, it does not affect those already convicted or in cases where prosecutions have been initiated.
The House of Commons saw fit to override amendments to the bill introduced in the House of Lords on Wednesday – the bill now awaits Royal Assent, or formal approval by the King, for it to become law.
Amnesty International has termed this turn of events a “dark day” for justice.
The Irish government is considering a legal confrontation against this law, on grounds that it may violate the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the British government has retorted, saying the law abides by all compliances.
Hilary Benn, Northern Ireland’s spokesperson for the opposition Labour Party, voiced the party’s view in a parliamentary debate. If in power, the Labour government would take the necessary measures to repeal the bill.