The President of a powerful Irish American lobby group in Washington D.C. says proposed legislation on dealing with past in Northern Ireland was shelved by the British Government because it became known the issue was to be made the subject of a United States Congressional hearing.
Reacting to news that the legislation, due to be presented to Westminster yesterday-Monday, October 12, 2015, has been delayed-Fr Sean McManus said: “The Stormont House Agreement bill has been held up because of strong objections and because the Irish National Caucus was briefing U.S. Congress about the bill’s serious flaws.
Fr McManus, a Co Fermanagh native, is President of the Irish National Caucus. Fr McManus formed the Irish National Caucus in the 1970s. It is a human rights organization dedicated to getting the United States to stand up for justice and peace in Ireland. He was forwarded a copy of the draft version of the Stormont House Agreement published on the Northern Ireland Office website on September 23.
Some relatives of people shot dead in Derry had long held suspicions that a deal allowing perpetrators of killings to make a confession and walk away with assurances of immunity from prosecution. These fears were confirmed this week when the ‘Derry Journal’ obtained and published a copy of the legislation.
The document asserted that perpetrators of killings would be able to confess their crimes to the newly established Historical Inquiries Unit (HIU) and then walk away without fear of prosecution. Relatives of those killed will also not be told if any disclosure had been made in relation to the deaths of their loved ones.
The legislation does allow scope for prosecutions if new evidence comes to light and the manner in which disclosed information will be evaluated makes it unlikely that a wide range of prosecutions will ever take place.
The HIU is set to replace the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and unlike the HET will have full policing powers and access to State documents.
Yet relatives have highlighted hey fear the HIU will not contain the promised level of investigative independence hoped for.
The new director of the HIU will be appointed by First and Deputy First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness and they will also have the power to sack the director.
Members of the British Army and police - both former RUC, PSNI and serving members of those organisations, will be eligible to take up posts as ‘independent investigators’.
The establishment of the HIU is set to cost £150 million and its remit is set to last five years.
The Secretary of State would have the ultimate say, however, with the power to shut the entire operation down.
And, cross-border evidence from the Gardai in relation to ‘Troubles’ related murders will not be admissable in Northern Ireland as the legislation contends it may be detrimental to international relations between Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
Yesterday however, in a move away from the remit of the original lesgislation, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers released a statement saying that elements of the legislation will now be redrawn and it will be stated in law that there will be neither amnesty nor immunity for anyone guilty of a crime.
Fr Sean McManus said: “I congratulate the few brave souls in Northern Ireland for first raising the alarm on this issue, while a majority were silent. Because of their courage I was able to alert the U.S. Congress on the issue. I have been reliably informed that when the British Government knew the issue was being raised in Congress, they knew their bill was in real trouble.”