Reports have surfaced this week that the British Government intends to introduce a statute of limitations to ban the prosecution of people who were involved in the conflict in Northern Ireland before 1998.
This statute of limitations is to be applied across the board it is said, meaning that all sides would be given amnesty, including republican and nationalist sympathisers as well as former members of the British Army.
This news has been met with dismay from the Irish government, with the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney saying on twitter earlier that victims must be the only priority.
There is a great deal of unease from the Irish government that the UK is considering unilateral action, with the Taoiseach Michael Martin saying in relation to the matter that any move towards unilateral action by any party in relation to moving away from the 2014 Stormont House Agreement on legacy issues in the north would be a “breach of trust”.
The Stormont House Agreement of 2014 is an omnibus agreement on a wide number of issues. It was signed by the British government, Irish government and a majority of the parties in the Northern Ireland Executive. Amongst other things, agreement was reached on a way forward for legacy issues. This included the setting up of a unit overseen by the Northern Ireland Policing Board to investigate outstanding criminal killings and allegations of police misconduct which occurred during the Troubles. Such a unit has yet to commence operation.
In addition, provision had been made as part of the Stormont House Agreement to put in place an Oral History programme to record the lived history of those affected by the troubles for future generations. It is hoped that this would be engaged with by people who experienced the Troubles on all sides to get a full record of what happened.
The move to provide amnesty has been condemned by relatives of victims of the conflict as well as by many political figures. Some relatives of those killed by the British Army have said that such a move would deny forever the chance for them to get justice for what had happened.
The Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister claimed that “Amnesty for terrorists in the tailwind of action to protect veterans is not acceptable.” The Alliance Party said that moves would display contempt for victims and Sinn Féin have also condemned the moves.
A spokesperson for the UK government has claimed that the mechanisms currently in place for dealing with such issues are not working at present for anybody, are placing a heavy burden on the criminal justice system and leaving Northern Ireland hamstrung by its past.
There are a large number of unsolved crimes related to the Troubles in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 1998. Included in these are over 3,000 killings believed to be connected with the conflict in that time period as well as instances of alleged brutality, mistreatment and torture by paramilitary organisations as well as British Army and RUC.