Petition triggers recall of Stormont as party leaders unite to condemn Boris Johnson amensty proposals
The Northern Ireland Assembly is to hold and emergency sitting next week to discuss the UK government’s plans for an amnesty on Troubles prosecutions.
Stormont will abruptly return from summer recess on Tuesday after a petition for it to convene was signed by 30 members of the legislative assembly (MLAs).
The power sharing legislature will debate a motion calling for victims and survivors to have a “full, material and central role and input into the content and design of structures to address the legacy of the past”.
The major parties in Northern Ireland all oppose the UK government’s plan for a statute of limitations on the prosecution of Troubles crimes, which would apply to paramilitaries and British soldiers.
The policy would end prosecutions for crimes committed before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The move is drive by UK government’s promise to end prosecutions of members of the UK armed forces. Boris Johnson told the House of Commons on Wednesday that the idea should be given a “fair wind”.
“The people of Northern Ireland must, if we possibly can allow them to, move forwards now,” the prime minister told MPs.
But on Friday Northern Ireland’s political leaders held “robust conversations” with Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis over the proposals.
Following the multilateral meeting, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said: “It was a fairly robust conversation. Each of us outlined our views on the way forward in relation to legacy. We recognise that these are very difficult and sensitive matters.
“This morning I have been meeting with some of the groups here representing innocent victims from across Northern Ireland. They are very concerned by the Government’s proposals for what they believe amounts to some form of amnesty.
“They believe passionately that the opportunity for victims and families to pursue justice should not be closed off and that view was replicated in the comments made by party leaders this morning.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said there was “a strong consensus among party leaders that the British Government proposal for an amnesty for those involved in serious conflict-related crimes cannot be allowed to proceed”.
“It is pathetic that Boris Johnson and Brandon Lewis pushed ahead with this announcement before the consultation and engagement process with political parties and victims had begun in any serious way,” he said.
“This process cannot have a predetermined outcome that fails to deliver truth, justice, accountability and acknowledgment that victims and survivors need.”
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly accused the British Government of trying to bring forward a “fait accompli”, adding: “I doubt if you can tell me one person outside of Brandon Lewis who has actually defended this. Everyone is against it, right across the sector.
“Nobody believes what the British Government are saying, they are talking about a process and nobody believes that there is a process, they believe that the British [Government] are trying to bring forward a fait accompli and what we need to do is to fight it.”
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said her party would “not provide cover for anything that amounts to an amnesty”, while Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said the “made clear at the meeting that we would not be supporting a statute of limitations”.
He added that this had “always been our consistent position because it was always going to inevitably lead to an amnesty for terrorists”.
The Irish government is also opposed to the proposals.
More than 3,500 people died — most of them civilians — during Troubles, which involved involving Irish republican and British loyalist paramilitaries, as well as the UK armed forces.