Troubles-era investigations will give amnesty only to those who cooperate


Plans for a blanket amnesty for Troubles-related offences have been scrapped and the UK government will instead offer immunity only to those who cooperate with truth recovery investigations.

The original proposal had caused outrage in Northern Ireland where it was viewed as an attempt to shield security forces veterans from prosecution, leaving victims’ families without hope of truth or justice.

Downing Street on Tuesday retreated from the original plan, which had been popular with army veterans and rightwing Tory MPs, and revealed a tweaked version that will make immunity conditional on cooperation with a new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.

“The new commission provides the best route to give victims and their families the answers they have sought for years as well as giving our veterans the certainty they deserve,” said an official note accompanying the Queen’s speech, which flagged the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.

Most of the 3,500 killings during the Troubles are unsolved, leaving a backlog of “legacy” cases that have bedevilled politics and policing in Northern Ireland. A handful of recent prosecutions involving former soldiers collapsed. Veterans groups said there was a “witch-hunt” against old soldiers.

The government’s original proposal offered a de facto amnesty for troops that would almost certainly also have applied to members of the IRA and other paramilitary groups, a prospect that prompted condemnation from victims groups, unionists, nationalists and the Irish government.

The new version outlined in the Queen’s speech, which was delivered by Prince Charles, sought to mollify critics by incentivising alleged perpetrators to divulge information in return for amnesty. Alleged perpetrators who do not cooperate with the commission or who fail to fully share information will remain open to prosecution.

In addition to uncovering information about Troubles-related deaths and serious injuries, the new body will be tasked with producing a historical record of what is known in relation to every death that occurred during the Troubles.

It is understood that existing inquests and civil rights cases can proceed as normal and that future Troubles-related cases will be folded into the reconciliation and information recovery process.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the Democratic Unionist party leader, gave a guarded response, telling the BBC he needed to see more details. “We will judge what the government proposes against whether the opportunity for justice remains,” he added.

Colum Eastwood, the Social Democratic and Labour party leader and MP, said Boris Johnson’s administration lacked credibility on the issue. “There is no one who has faith in this government to do the right thing by victims and survivors.”

The Irish government made no immediate response. It has previously urged the UK government to implement a stalled 2014 agreement that laid out a strategy for legacy cases.

Padraig Yeates, a historian and member of the legacy campaign group Truth Recovery Process, welcomed the apparent abandonment of a blanket amnesty but said it was too early to judge the new proposal. “It must be based on a mediation and reconciliation model such as we are advocating, centred on addressing the needs of victims and survivors and providing for their redress, as well as protecting the rights of former combatants,” he said.

The Queen’s speech also announced a plan to legislate for the Irish language, which has been another contentious issue since the DUP blocked Sinn Féin’s efforts to pass an Irish language act. Last year Downing Street promised Sinn Féin it would bypass the Stormont assembly and pass the legislation at Westminster.