The UK government has made changes to its proposed legislation for dealing with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s Troubles.
In an announcement late on Tuesday, it outlined a number of minor alterations to the proposals contained in the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.
Following the announcement, the Pat Finucane Centre, which supports victims and survivors of the Troubles, condemned the Bill as a breach of international human rights law.
The Bill, which is due to proceed to committee stage in the House of Lords next week, will create a new truth recovery body – the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) – which will offer immunity from prosecution to perpetrators who co-operate with its inquiries.
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It will take over responsibility for all Troubles inquiries and other avenues of criminal and civil investigation and inquests will be closed down.
The plans have been widely condemned, including by the North’s five main political parties, victims and human rights groups, the Irish Government, and other parties in Ireland and in Britain, and internationally. It is supported by veterans’ groups.
The UK Government said on Tuesday that under the new proposals, the ICRIR will be able to conduct criminal investigations where it judges that to be appropriate. Individuals who “knowingly or recklessly” provide false information to the ICRIR can be prosecuted and have their immunity revoked, it said.
It will also disapply the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 “for individuals who choose not to tell the Commission what they know and are then convicted of an offence so that they face a full, rather than reduced, sentence”.
There will also be an increased fine for noncompliance with the commission. The UK Government said it would also “strengthen the Commission’s independence by making clear that the Secretary of State should consult individuals before appointing the Chief Commissioner”.
Northern Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said the amendments “reflect the extensive engagement that has taken place, and demonstrates the [UK] Government’s commitment to working with all interested parties regarding their concerns, and how these might be addressed”.
“The Government remains absolutely committed to delivering better outcomes for those most impacted by the Troubles,” he said.
Reacting to the latest proposals, the Pat Finucane Centre said the legislation still “flies in the face of the European Court of Human Rights and all recognised international human rights”.
“It’s an insult to our intelligence and any judicial figure who agrees to oversee this farce will go down in history as another Widgery,” it said, referring to the judge who presided over the original Bloody Sunday tribunal.