Northern Ireland’s Conditional Amnesty Bill Shows “Hole” in Good Friday Agreement: Experts

A recent attempt by the British government to deal with the unresolved killings of more than 1,000 people during the Northern Ireland issue has highlighted a “hole” in the Good Friday Agreement, said a leading dispute resolution leader. I am.

Duncan Morrow, a professor of political science at Ulster University and director of community engagement, said there was “suspicion.” Northern Ireland Issue (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill It was driven by an attempt to quell a Tory backbencher who wanted to avoid being prosecuted by British Army veterans.

In May 2021, the trial of two former British Army soldiers accused of murdering the official IRA man Joe McCann in 1972 collapsed.

Conservative Rep. Johnny Mercer resigned as veteran minister after calling the trial “shameful,” and the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson later announced plans to give full amnesty to former soldiers.

However, the government has changed its position slightly, and the new bill introduces an Independent Committee for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), with the authority to immunize only those who cooperate in the investigation.

“The British government is under pressure from its own backbencher, but they have replaced general amnesty with conditional amnesty, which is a significant change,” Morrow told The Epoch Times.

However, he said there remained “suspicion” about the motives of the British government.

“Distortion towards national actors”

Padraig O’Muirigh, a lawyer who has represented the families of many victims from the Irish Republican and nationalist communities, said a bill issued on May 17 would allow British Army veterans to “escape justice.” Said it was an attempt to make it.

“This process is biased towards national stakeholders … there is little optimism about this process and there are many concerns,” O’Muirigh told The Epoch Times.

More than 3,600 people were killed during the Northern Ireland issue, a period of conflict between denominations from 1969 to 1998 when the Provisional IRA tried to force United Ireland through terrorism, of which 1,000 remain unresolved.

The Good Friday Agreement, which ended the Northern Ireland issue, allowed both Republican and Loyalist convicted murderers to be released from prison, but when new evidence emerged for unresolved killings. Did not define a process for what would happen.

Epoch Times Photo
April 20, 2019, Irish Republican Army (IRA) sniper warning sign overlooking the Bogside region of Londonderry, Northern Ireland. (Poleface via Getty Images / AFP)

However, Morrow said: “The Good Friday Agreement is very future-oriented, such as” The best monument to the past is to create a better future. ” A political decision was made that no consensus could be reached if this was included. “

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government, like Craig Williamson, a police officer who murdered, opposed following the model of the South African Truth Reconciliation Commission, which was established in 1995 to investigate crimes committed during the apartheid era. Provided a complete amnesty to the people. An anti-apartheid activist and her 6-year-old daughter with a letter bomb.

Moreau said: “Under the Good Friday Agreement, prisoners were released early without amnesty. They don’t have much time in prison, but they can be prosecuted. That was the biggest hole in the Good Friday Agreement. There was no clause to solve the problem of that [during The Troubles].. “

Decision “ghost” Northern Ireland

He says he omits mechanisms to deal with unresolved killings, despite various attempts to tackle the legacy of trouble, such as the 2009 Eames Bradley Report (such as the 2009 Eames Bradley Report). The decision said it “worried” Northern Ireland.pdf).

According to Morrow, Northern Ireland police set up a historical research team in 2005, but were later abandoned because, as in other cases, “it didn’t look like they were tracking members of the army with the same energy.” rice field.

Helen Diary, whose 15-year-old brother Manus was shot dead by soldiers in Londonderry in 1972, told the BBC’s “Good Morning Ulster” on May 18. I remember him as a beautiful, funny, smart and peeing boy. He had his full life before him. “

Ian Jeffers, a new commissioner for Northern Ireland victims and survivors, told the same program: In a short period of time, I have played the role I have heard from groups and individuals of victims. They want to know who set the bomb, who triggered it, and why.

The ICRIR has been in operation for five years, of which a committee will determine whether the perpetrator is eligible for immunity, depending on whether the killing is true and approaching.

Epoch Times Photo
Labor Party lawmakers and Northern Ireland’s Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Louise Haigh, a spokesman for the Barry Murphy family in Mansfield, some scenes of Barry Murphy’s murder in Belfast, Northern Ireland, August 13, 2021. Meet John Tegart and his fellow Barry Murphy family. McKillan / Getty Images)

O’Muirigh said: “There is nothing wrong with the proper truth recovery process, but it is biased towards state officials. They have stopped inquests like the Barry Murphy massacre last year, suspended civil proceedings, and legacy. It was important to get a complete discovery in the case. “

But he added that conditional amnesty “can escape soldiers from the criminal justice process,” which would undermine Northern Ireland’s reconciliation.

Many were surprised when the bill was announced. It included a provision that civil proceedings could not be initiated after the first reading made this week was given. It said Omuiri was a “scandalous”.

Expected legal challenges

O’Muirigh said he hopes the bill will be challenged in court.

Former IRA fighters went into the process as more than 2,100 deaths were committed by the Provisional IRA and other Republican groups during the Troubles issue, and Omuilly was not perceived as a “victim-centric” approach. He said he was skeptical about whether to engage.

Moreau suspected that a former IRA man would come forward to provide information about the crimes he committed in return for his amnesty, but said republican organizations are unlikely to agree. rice field.

He also said it was unclear whether former Loyalist paramilitary organizations would like to provide information on alleged collusion with security forces if they “endanger” them and others.

Chris Summers


Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist with a particular interest in crime, police and law, covering stories from a wide range of countries.