Key part of controversial legacy plans should be stripped out, Government told

A key part of controversial plans aimed at dealing with Northern Ireland's troubled past "drives a dagger through victims" and should be stripped out, the Government has been told.

A key part of controversial plans aimed at dealing with Northern Ireland's troubled past "drives a dagger through victims" and should be stripped out, the Government has been told.

Former secretary of state and Labour peer Lord Murphy of Torfaen is spearheading a move at Westminster to ditch the "most severely disliked" measure from the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which critics have called an amnesty.

The proposed law would provide immunity for people accused of crimes during the Troubles, as long as they co-operate with a new truth recovery body, known as the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).

The Bill, which is currently going through the House of Lords, would also halt future civil cases and inquests linked to killings during the conflict.

Despite the Government introducing a string of amendments to the draft legislation, it remains widely opposed by political parties, the Irish Government and victims' groups.

Lord Murphy, who has proposed an amendment to the Bill which would scrap the immunity provision, said the upper chamber should "send back a message" to MPs.

He said: "To send a signal to them that this House recognises the significance of the opposition to the Bill in Northern Ireland would be a very powerful one."

While comparisons had been made between the immunity measure and the early release of prisoners under the 1998 peace deal, Lord Murphy said the "big difference" was the latter move had the backing of a referendum at the time.

"No-one in Northern Ireland is voting in favour of this," he said. "There is no consensus in its favour.

"The minister knows you simply cannot impose things on Northern Ireland. Imposition is entirely improper."

Denying it was a so-called wrecking amendment Lord Murphy said: "It takes the part of the Bill out which is most severely disliked.

"Why on earth is the Government persisting in something that shouldn't be imposed upon the people of Northern Ireland against their will?"

Referring to the matter of "amnesty and immunity", former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick said: "This issue goes to the heart of the legislation, but it also drives a dagger through victims in Northern Ireland - people who have endured immeasurable suffering because of the loss of their loved ones in unexplained circumstances, because many of them have not been told how or why that loss happened, or the nature of the wounds inflicted on them."

Independent crossbencher Baroness O'Loan, who was the first Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland, said: "Nobody in Northern Ireland wants these provisions."

DUP chairman Lord Morrow said: "I have not read of support for this legislation, yet the Government are intent on pushing on and pushing it through."

Responding, Northern Ireland Office minister Lord Caine said: "I do genuinely accept that this is the most controversial and challenging aspect of the Bill. I have found this very difficult.

"The legislation contains finely balanced political and moral choices that are challenging for many."

He added; "We must be honest what we can realistically achieve in those circumstances where the prospects of prosecutions and convictions are vanishingly small.

"It's an uncomfortable reality for many but it is the reality of the situation in which we find ourselves.

"In those circumstances the Government's objective is to provide greater information, accountability and acknowledgement to victims and families in a more timely manner and to more people than is possible under current mechanisms.

"The way we do that is by creating an effective information recovery process.

"The ICRIR will conduct reviews for the primary purpose of providing answers for those that want them and will grant immunity from prosecution only if individuals provide an account that is true to the best of their knowledge and belief.

"This is difficult but it is a crucial aspect of the information recovery process and is why conditional immunity is central to this legislation and in the Government's view should not be removed."

Votes on Lord Murphy's amendment and others are due to be held on Monday if pressed.

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