Further amendments to be brought on Legacy Bill

DUP East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson has welcomed the Government’s u-turn on plans which would have allowed individuals guilty of sexual offences during the Troubles to gain immunity from prosecution.

By Gavin Robinson MP

Belfast East

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The move came after the DUP and Labour jointly brought forward an amendment to the Northern Ireland Troubles Bill in the House of Commons to exclude these crimes.

Emphasising the need for further fundamental changes to the Bill, Mr Robinson said:

‘‘To the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, the prospect of a Troubles amnesty of any shade is, and will continue to be, entirely repugnant. For the perpetrators of sexual violence to be eligible for immunity would have been particularly perverse. In many instances paramilitaries used this abhorrent behaviour both to intimidate and exert control over their own members and communities.

The Government’s hasty retreat on this single issue is therefore welcome. However, it is a limited victory.

The thrust of the Bill continues to be an erosion of the rule of law. Access to justice for innocent victims and their families would be rapidly reduced and eventually eliminated altogether. Terrorists would be rewarded regardless of whether they stay silent, come forward or tell the truth. There would be an immoral equivalence created between those who served and those who terrorised.

These are not arrangements that we in the Democratic Unionist Party could ever countenance. Accordingly, we will be voting against the Bill.

However, given that cross-bench consensus could be secured to exclude sexual offences, we believe there should be no roadblocks to reaching agreement in other areas. As a Party we will be bringing forward a number of amendments on Monday.

We want to ensure that if someone granted immunity under the Bill later glorifies, or induces, a terrorist act, they are subject to the full rigour of the law. In fact, their immunity should be treated as an aggravating factor when it comes to sentencing.

We will also be seeking to clearly define a victim. Those who are granted immunity for Troubles crimes, or those injured by their own hand, must not be regarded as victims for the purposes of remembering the past or taking forward oral history projects.

If the Secretary of State is intent on keeping up the pretence that this is about promoting reconciliation, he should have no problem acknowledging that our amendments are victim-centred and a reasonable counterweight to the unjust protection granted by this Bill to the perpetrators of crime.’’

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