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US politicians warn UK Government it is undermining Good Friday Agreement


US secretary of state Antony Blinken. Photo: Reuters

US secretary of state Antony Blinken. Photo: Reuters

US secretary of state Antony Blinken. Photo: Reuters

A group of 40 US politicians have issued a stark warning to the UK Government over the proposed Legacy and Reconciliation Bill, saying it “violates” the Good Friday Agreement, international law, and "undermines” the Northern Ireland peace process.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has written a letter to UK leaders on behalf of the Ad Hoc Committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).

The bi-partisan committee was formed in 2019 by politicians who have worked for decades on the Northern Ireland peace process.

Mr Blinken sad its members wish to express their “urgent and unequivocal opposition” to the “so-called” Legacy and Reconciliation Bill.

The Bill provides for the establishment of a new body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, to conduct reviews of deaths and serious injuries which occurred during the Troubles.

In a statement released earlier this month, a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said: "It is very unclear as to whether the proposed review system meets the requirements for investigations to be carried out independently, adequately, and with sufficient participation of next of kin. While leaving open the prospect of prosecution, it is also unclear as to how, under this review system, criminal investigations capable of leading to such a prosecution could take place.

“There are also serious concerns, which have been expressed particularly powerfully by victims and families, with regard to the granting of immunity, and what appears a remarkably low threshold for so doing. The Bill does not clearly require full disclosure of all relevant information, does not clearly require the veracity of an applicant’s account to be properly tested, and provides that grants of immunity will be irrevocable even if it transpires that the applicant has obtained immunity with false information.”

The Ad Hoc Committee has expressed many of the same concerns.

Mr Blinken said the committee raised concerns over the bill with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as far back as September 2021 and his colleagues have engaged with UK leaders regularly to ensure the revised legacy proposal would comply with the GFA and reflect the concerns of victims and survivors.

"The pending bill does none of these things,” he said.

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"Along with independent legal experts in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, we have concluded that the proposed legislation ignores the expressed concerns of the people of Northern Ireland across community and party lines, and violates the GFA and human rights standards under UK and international law that the agreement incorporated. Litigation over these deficiencies is certain to lead to years of further delay in addressing Northern Ireland legacy issues.”

He said the bill is “opposed” by all the political parties in the North, as well as victims’ organisations and some of the region’s leading NGOs. He argued the negative reaction is “hardly surprising given that there was no formal, transparent, or public consultation with the concerned people and groups in Northern Ireland”.

Mr Blinken said the bill “violates the GFA”, which committed the UK and Irish governments to peace and reconciliation through adherence to fundamental human rights.

"As interpreted by both the European Court of Human Rights and the UK Supreme Court, this right requires that governments effectively investigate cases of alleged state killing. Among the resulting requirements, any investigation must be: 1) initiated by the state; 2) independent; 3) effective and at least capable of leading to prosecution; 4) open to public scrutiny; 5) sufficiently involve next of kin; and 6) carried out with reasonable expedition. There is consensus among independent legal experts that the pending Bill fails on all counts,” he said.

He added: “Precisely because it so manifestly violates the requirements of the ECHR and GFA, the proposed legislation, if enacted, will guarantee years of protracted litigations, first in UK courts, and then at the European Court of Human Rights.

"In this light, there can be no more effective way to undermine peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland with regard to legacy, than to enact this proposal. We understand that the pending bill is being fast tracked through parliament. We therefore respectfully call upon you to use all possible diplomatic channels necessary to oppose this potential violation of the GFA without delay.”

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