DUP MPs outline opposition to Government's legacy Bill

DUP East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson has reminded the House of Commons that the Government should be on the side of justice and victims rather than perpetrators, but the Northern Ireland peace process has too often taken the opposite approach.

By Gavin Robinson Candidate

Belfast East

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Mr Robinson said,

“The past twenty-five years in Northern Ireland have been marked by a corruption of justice in the name of the peace and reconciliation. Shamefully, what began with immoral prisoner release schemes led to scant prison time for convicted terrorists and eventually to letters of comfort issued to so-called on the runs.

The Democratic Unionist Party rejected each of these provisions and we continue to stand four-square behind the principle that everyone should be equal under - and equally subject to - the law. The flame of justice must be preserved. Access to justice must be protected. There can be no amnesty for wrongdoing and no rewriting of the past.

Sadly, with the introduction of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, the Government has fallen into the trap of believing that it would be best to simply draw a line under the issue of legacy and move on. This is a position that has been universally rejected by innocent victims and their advocates, as well as all political parties in Northern Ireland. It is an affront to justice.

The Government’s proposals would grant an amnesty for those responsible for Troubles-related crimes on the basis of a dubious information recovery scheme. This would create an equivalence between the terrorist who was intent only on bloodshed and the soldier or police officer who served our community with distinction. Such an outcome would be indefensible.

We oppose this bill but since the Government is pressing ahead, we will be bringing forward amendments in a number of areas. To repeal the early release provisions of the Belfast Agreement, to prohibit anyone granted immunity from glorifying terrorism, allow immunity to be revoked, to establish larger fines for those who fail to cooperate and to ensure only innocent victims are treated as victims in any memorialisation strategy.”

Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart said,

“The DUP will be resisting, and voting against, the Bill at every available opportunity. We will also be seeking support from MPs to help limit the damage should the Government choose to steamroller through these provisions without the consent of communities in Northern Ireland.

The drafting of this Bill is such that there would be absolutely no incentive for paramilitaries to engage. In fact, it would erase the two-year prison sentence an individual would have to serve if convicted for offences committed before 1998. There would also be minimal repercussions should anyone who chooses not to engage with the Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery - or indeed those who are proven to have lied - while those who have openly evaded the authorities for years would seemingly be able to reap the benefits of immunity.

This will inevitably lead to a situation where terrorists who have openly evaded the authorities for years being able to retire in dignity. All the while a disproportionate focus would rest on the minority of state-related cases - for which a mountain of information exists and which we can assume would be meticulously provided to the information recovery process.

Ultimately, anyone who broke the law should face the threat of prosecution and eventual conviction for their crimes. The law should apply equally and be applied without fear or favour. Nobody denies that the passage of time presents prosecutorial difficulties but the answer is not to arbitrarily close down legal routes for innocent victims. This holds implications for the integrity of the criminal justice system not just in Northern Ireland but across the United Kingdom. It wouldn’t be tolerated for hate crime or gang crime. It shouldn’t be deemed acceptable toward the victims of terrorism.”

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