Eastwood angrily denounces ‘legacy bill’ as ‘affront to democracy’ and urges Ireland to take Britain to Strasbourg over human rights

Colum Eastwood has angrily denounced Britain’s ‘legacy bill’ as an ‘affront to democracy’ and urged Dublin to take the London to the European Court of Human Rights over the controversial legislation.
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Mr. Eastwood said: “There are a lot of things that get me angry in this job and this has got me more angry than anything I've ever had to deal with because unlike some people in this house the people sitting on these benches have had to deal with and get to know and work with the victims of our terrible past for decades and I am frankly embarrassed today,” said the SDLP leader.

He was speaking immediately prior to the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which will introduce a statute of limitations for all Troubles-related killings, clearing its final stage in the British House of Commons on Wednesday.

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“I don't know what I'm going to say to them when I speak to them after this debate because as a whole, as a body politic, we have failed them.

Colum Eastwood denouncing the legacy bill on Wednesday.Colum Eastwood denouncing the legacy bill on Wednesday.
Colum Eastwood denouncing the legacy bill on Wednesday.

"We have a peace process. We have peace. Lots of us have been able to move on but we have left a very significant cohort of people behind and we are rubberstamping that today,” said the Foyle MP.

In an impassioned speech before MPs voted to introduce an effective amnesty for British soldiers, loyalists and republicans, who committed atrocities in Ireland during the conflict, he told them: “Some people will walk through these lobbies coldly tonight without having the names of the victims ringing in their heads.

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"I have the names going around my head right now. I put many of them on the public record in this chamber over the passage of this bill. I am deeply ashamed, deeply ashamed that we are doing this today.

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"There is a pretence in the proposal for this bill that somehow the British Government were not an actor at all in the conflict in Northern Ireland. That is patently untrue.

“‘They are coming in to talk to the local political parties in Northern Ireland who are just squabbling?’ ‘They can’t come up with any answers.’ ‘They can't deal with this problem.’ Patently untrue. We came up with the answer. It was Stormont House [the Stormont House agreement of 2014 which contained a series of legacy proposals].

"The reason it wasn't delivered was because of the British Government dragging their feet and then changing their policy after New Decade, New Approach [the 2020 agreement which pledged to implement Stormont House’s legacy proposals]. That is a fact.”

Mr. Eastwood urged the Irish Government to take a case to the European Court of Rights over a potential breach of Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights which stipulates that the lives of citizens in signatory countries must be protected under law.

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“I really hope now that the Irish government listen to the calls from some of us to take this government to court in Strasbourg, the European Court of Human Rights. It is an affront to Article 2. Every single expert I've spoken to agrees with me on that. Every single victim agrees with me on that as well.”

The SDLP leader strongly challenged the British Government’s claims that the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill will lead to truth and closure for victims.

He told MPs: “The Secretary of State [Chris Heaton-Harris] wants to use the phrase 'effective information recovery process' a lot of times. Effective information recovery process?

"I can take you to families today whose children were shot in the Troubles, 14 and 15 years old, and their cases have been closed by this Government until 2064 and 2065. These are people telling us they want an effective information recovery process?

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“They are denying victims effective information recovery. That is what they are doing. So it tells me that this is based on a lie. This is an attempt by this government and dark forces from the security apparatus of this government to close down access to truth and justice. We all understand that justice is going to be hard to get for many families. But most of those families haven't even had any truth.

“The process of investigation gets them truth. I can take you to loads of families today who never even once met a police officer even though their loved one was murdered.”

Mr. Eastwood suggested Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) will have difficulty in retrieving information from those involved in committing atrocities during the conflict.

He asked MPs: "Does anybody here believe that the IRA are going to come forward and tell us who bombed a particular pub or who shot a particular person? It is utter nonsense. It is an attempt to close down access to the truth.

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"It is an affront to democracy. Immunity? It's impunity. You have given people a licence to murder people on the streets of Derry and Belfast and Newry and right across Northern Ireland, and also on the streets of London.

"I do not understand how any politician can stand and look at the faces of crying victims and tell them that this is the right thing to do. I'm ashamed that this is happening today but let me say one thing to end.

"I know these people who have had to struggle for decade after decade after decade. This will not be the end for them and we will be with them in support right to the end.”