The Irish Times view on the British government’s legacy Bill: a major error that erodes trust

It would ensure that there will never be justice for the families of many of those who were killed during the Troubles

A year ago it had appeared that the British government was open to seeking some compromise on its controversial Northern Ireland legacy Bill. These hopes have now been dashed and the Bill looks set to soon become law, having passed a key House of Commons vote on Wednesday.

It is telling that just about everyone apart from the Conservative government is opposed to the Bill, including the main political parties in Northern Ireland, the Irish Government, groups representing victims of the Troubles, the British Labour Party and human right groups.

Those opponents are correct. The Bill proposes an effective amnesty for crimes committed during the Troubles for people who co-operate with a new information retrieval body. It would also curtail existing inquests into deaths during the Troubles and would prevent further ones taking place, along with civil cases or new policy inquiries.

The British government says the Bill can provide new information for the families of victims. But the suspicion is that its motivation is to protect British army veterans and ensure that further information on state collusion does not emerge.

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It would ensure that there will never be justice for the families of those who were killed and is probably in breach of the British government’s international obligations, specifically under the European Convention on Human Rights.

This latter point may be tested legally. A number of court challenges from families and their representatives are reportedly in preparation. And here the Government is to take advice from the Attorney General on whether to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Calls from Dublin for the Bill to be paused to allow further consideration and discussion have been ignored in London. The Bill is due to go back to the House of Lords next week. Parliamentary convention suggests that it will then be passed and be signed into law.

Hopes of a new relationship on Northern Ireland between London and Dublin under UK prime minister Rishi Sunak have been dealt a serious blow by this development. It also runs counter to an agreement reached between the two governments and the North’s political parties in Stormont House in 2014. This said that the approach to dealing with the legacy of the Troubles would be " victim-centred”.

It did propose a confidential information-gathering body separate from the legal process, but stated that co-operation with this would not make individuals immune from prosecution. Now those who provide information will generally avoid the courts, including some guilty of terrible crimes. The Bill is a mistake. It does not deal with the legacy of the past and will increase tensions in the future.