A Letter from Irelandnna Chara, nnThe British Government passed legislation that ends the right of families bereaved in conflict to access the courts, inquests, and criminal investigations. It will grant immunity from prosecution. The major beneficiaries of this will be the British military, agents, and those who directed and covered up their actions.
During the conflict, tens of thousands were convicted in special non jury criminal courts, and others were interned for years without any trial. In that period only six British soldiers were convicted of killings. All six served short sentences before returning to their regiments. Up until the mid-1970s, killings by the military were investigated by the army themselves and not the police force.
Families have campaigned and secured inquests into mass shootings by the British army that found that all the victims were innocent. The British Government has now moved to stop these inquests.
In addition to direct killing, the British government authorized its military to organize covert actions. They took lessons learned in Kenya and Malaya (now Malaysia) and applied them to Ireland.
They supported unionist paramilitaries and the establishment of a local military, the Ulster Defense Regiment, which was so sectarian and so infiltrated by unionist paramilitaries that it had to be disbanded. They supplied weapons and intelligence to Unionist paramilitaries, their agents commissioned and carried out murders immune from prosecution.
We know this from countless court actions taken by families and from Police Ombudsman reports. The British government has now moved to end access to courts and judicial investigations.
These proposals were opposed by all political parties in Ireland and Britain. They are opposed by the US Congress, UN, and EU human rights organizations. Most importantly they are opposed by victims groups.
The passage of this law is a breach of the Good Friday Agreement, the Stormont House Agreement, and the European Convention of Human Rights.
The British Government knew all of this and still pushed ahead. It is about protecting their people and their narrative that they were peacekeepers in a sectarian conflict, when the truth is they were active participants in killings.
When the news broke that the British proposals had been passed in Westminster, bereaved families began posting photographs of their lost loved ones. They used the hashtag #NeverGivingUp.
This issue should now be adjudicated in the courts. The Irish Government that has opposed this Bill should now bring the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights. British governments come and go, but the quest for justice continues. I hope the Irish Government does the right thing, takes a case, and gives victims their day in court. Never giving up.
Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.