No-one has an alternative to the Legacy Bill, says Heaton-Harris
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said no-one has presented him with an alternative to the Government’s Legacy Bill.
The UK Government’s Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill includes a form of limited immunity for some perpetrators of crimes committed during the conflict, if they collaborate with a truth recovery body.
It would also prevent future civil cases and inquests into Troubles offences.
The legislation is opposed by all major Stormont parties, the Irish Government and victims’ campaign groups.
Chris Heaton-Harris’s comments on the bill came as he spoke to media after announcing a peace funding project for Northern Ireland, in collaboration with the EU and Republic of Ireland, totalling close to £1 billion.
Lots of people ranged against the Legacy Bill, but no-one has an alternative for what could possibly replace it, and no-one can tell me that the current situation that has been running for the last 25 years has been satisfactory to the families of victims either
There was a silent protest held against the Legacy Bill outside the Newforge Sports Centre in south Belfast, where the Secretary of State met with Irish premier Leo Varadkar and vice-president of the European Commission Maros Sefcovic to announce the new funding scheme.
Mr Heaton-Harris said despite the widespread opposition to the Legacy Bill from politicians and victims, he has not been presented with an alternative option.
“Lots of people ranged against the Legacy Bill, but no-one has an alternative for what could possibly replace it, and no-one can tell me that the current situation that has been running for the last 25 years has been satisfactory to the families of victims either,” he said.
“So I fully acknowledge this is not perfect. I’ve met with an awful lot of people who lost loved ones in the Troubles, I’ve met with people who had family members maimed, I’ve met with people who are truly victims, I cannot put myself in their shoes.
“But 25 years on, some of these families will have been looking for answers (from) when the Troubles commenced – you could say the best part of 40 or 50 years – and haven’t really received them.
“This is an honest and true attempt to try and get information for those families.”
I had a chance to meet with the Secretary of State today and once again expressed the Irish Government’s opposition to the Legacy Bill
Mr Varadkar said he has urged Mr Heaton-Harris to pause the UK Government’s controversial bill to deal with the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles.
“I had a chance to meet with the Secretary of State today and once again expressed the Irish Government’s opposition to the Legacy Bill,” he said.
“It isn’t law yet, it still has to pass through the House of Lords and receive Royal Assent. Once again, I appealed to the UK Government to pause this, we don’t think it is the right thing to do.”
Mr Varadkar has previously said he would “give consideration to whether an interstate case is appropriate” in the case of the Legacy Bill.
States can lodge legal applications against each other in the European Court of Human Rights under article 33 of the ECHR.
Ireland has previously taken an interstate case against the UK in relation to interrogation techniques used in Northern Ireland from 1971 to 1975.
In Belfast on Monday, Mr Varadkar said he would be seeking legal advice on whether the Irish Government would take such a case against the UK.
“We haven’t yet made a decision on whether or not we will take an interstate case,” he said.
“That is a big decision, it is not a small thing to do to take a neighbouring state to court.
“Before we make that decision, we are going to need to seek legal advice from our own attorney general and we shall do that in the next couple of weeks.”
The Ballymurphy Massacre families attended an impromptu silent protest outside the New Forge complex on Monday.
In a statement the families said they were there to highlight to the Taoiseach the need for the Irish Government to take an interstate case against the British Government for the Legacy Bill.
Speaking at the protest John Teggart, son of Daniel Teggart, one of 11 victims of the Ballymurphy Massacre, said families like his would not be at peace until the Legacy Bill was abandoned.
“It is disgraceful that families like ourselves are still having to stand in protest after 50 years,” he said.
“We feel that the Irish Government is leaving us behind and we need this interstate case to be taken immediately against the British Government.
“We acknowledge today it is good news day, we welcome all the funding that has come forward from PeacePlus to the many groups and community organisations, particularly those providing services to victims and survivors. We support their good work.
“But what you have to remember is that families like ourselves are not at peace. We can’t be at peace until this Legacy Bill of shame is binned and that can only be achieved by an interstate case taken by the Irish Government which is the fastest way to defeat it.
“Don’t be leaving victims behind, protect our human and civil rights by taking an interstate case immediately.”
The best videos delivered daily
Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox