Troubles bill clears Commons hurdle without support of Northern Ireland MPs

MPs have been debating the legislation. Credit: UTV

The UK Government's controversial Troubles legacy and reconciliation legislation has cleared its first Commons hurdle without support from any of Northern Ireland's MPs.

The House of Commons voted 285 to 208 on Tuesday, a majority of 77, to give the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill a second reading.

The division list showed only Tory MPs voted in favour, while MPs from the DUP, SDLP and Alliance Party voted against it.

Earlier, relatives of those killed in the Troubles staged protests in Belfast, Londonderry and in London against the proposals.

The bill would establish an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery which would review deaths and other harmful conduct within the Troubles.

It will offer immunity to people who are deemed to have co-operated with the information retrieval body, but criminal prosecutions could still take place.

Opening the debate on Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said he knows that this legislation will "remain challenging for some".

He continued: "I want to say directly to all those individuals and their families - I respect the personal tragedies that drive their determination to seek truth and accountability for the losses they have suffered, and I share that determination.

"The Government is not - and will never - ask them to forget what they have been through in the name of reconciliation.

"This is not about ‘drawing a line’, forgetting or forcing forgiveness.

"But we must find a way to obtain information and provide accountability more quickly and comprehensively than the current system - and in a way that aids reconciliation, both for you and for the whole of Northern Ireland."

DUP MP Gavin Robinson said the bill would drive a "coach and horses through the pursuit of justice".

He said: "I know there are members in this Chamber that think 'for goodness sake Northern Ireland legacy, can't they just agree?'

"Well, we all do agree in Northern Ireland that this Bill is wrong, that this Bill will not command support, that this Bill drives a coach and horses through the pursuit of justice.

"And I take no pride in that."

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MP said: "The pretence from this Government that this is about victims or reconciliation is frankly an out-and-out lie.

"There's absolutely nothing in this Bill for the victims and those people who've been left behind by all those perpetrators who destroyed lives and families over many years."

Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry said the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill will prove to be "utterly unworkable".

He said: "The difficulty we have here is that this debate is based around a false narrative of vexatious investigations or prosecutions, which simply does not stack up under scrutiny.

"As a consequence of that, we are seeing the production of what is bad law, and the law that will prove to be utterly unworkable in the situation of Northern Ireland."

The DUP's Jim Shannon MP was on the verge of tears as he spoke of his own family and friends who were killed during the Troubles.

He said: "This legislation doesn't satisfy my constituents, it doesn't satisfy my family and we want justice."

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