Bereaved relatives who lost loved ones in Northern Ireland’s Troubles are united against a proposed statute of limitations on legacy prosecutions.
The victim sector, which includes a wide range of views on how to deal with the past, came together with one voice to slam Brandon Lewis’ proposals as a “betrayal”.
Families of the 10 killed by soldiers in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in 1971 watched Mr Lewis’ statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday.
A fresh inquest into the deaths of the woman and nine men earlier this year found they were “entirely innocent”.
Eileen McKeown, daughter of Joseph Corr, said they see the proposed statute of limitations on Troubles prosecutions as the British Government’s “cynical attempt to bring an amnesty and a plan to bury its war crimes”.
She said the proposals “will not be tolerated and will be legally challenged”.
“The Ballymurphy Massacre inquest findings show how the law should work independently,” she said.
“All victims need to know the truth, they need to know what happened to their loved ones.
“We all bleed the same blood so everybody needs truth and justice and then maybe they can start living their lives.
“We spent 50 years trying to prove that our loved ones were innocent, there are loads of families out there like us and they all need to know the same thing.”
Michael O’Hare, whose 12-year-old sister Majella was shot by a soldier in 1976, said the legacy proposals set out by Brandon Lewis were an “utter and unacceptable betrayal”.
Mr O’Hare, supported by Amnesty, is calling for an independent investigation into the killing.
He said: “The UK Government is inflicting great pain on my family and other victims denied justice.
“Our Majella had her life cruelly robbed, at the tender age of 12, by bullets from a soldier’s machine gun.
“She was an innocent child with her whole life ahead of her.
“The Ministry of Defence apologised to my family, but a proper investigation has never happened.
“The UK Government is now trying to deny us meaningful truth and justice forever.
“I will never stop fighting for Majella, my sister deserves justice.
“I hope these proposals are firmly rejected.
“I call on all parties involved to end the perpetual cycle of victims being failed.”
Meanwhile Ulster Human Rights Watch slammed the legacy proposals as a “betrayal to victims and former police and military veterans”.
Advocacy manager Axel Schmidt described the Government’s position on legacy as a “sorry mess” and an “affront to men and women who wore a uniform to counter gangs of terrorist murderers”.
“The proposals deny innocent victims justice by exonerating the gunman and bomber.
“Ministers are saying there is equivalence between soldiers, police officers and terrorists and that is disgraceful,” he said.
“To equate officers and military veterans, agents of the State, in the same bracket as those who were hell-bent on murdering them makes a laughing stock out of our system of justice.
“This is a denial of justice, a betrayal of victims and former police officers and military veterans who suffered appalling losses as they worked courageously to protect the community from anarchy.
“We will now mount a campaign to halt what amounts to a sellout.
“We intend galvanising political support to make ministers think again about these foolhardy and rash proposals.”
Relatives for Justice said it was the “single worst day for all victims during our peace process”.
“This proposal is the mother of all cover-ups,” chief executive Mark Thompson said.
“Having perniciously fought families for all of this time, for the British Government to now somehow suggest that without the rule of law the UK Government will hand over truth and information to families out of the goodness of their hearts is an insult to our collective intelligence and a denial of our collective experience,” he said.
“These proposals will legalise state impunity. In order to achieve this, the UK Government is willing to make the interests of every single person affected by every single killing expendable – this is breathtaking.”
Innocent Victims United spokesman Kenny Donaldson said it is not for the UK Prime Minister, Taoiseach or any other representative of government to “arbitrarily close down justice”.
He said: “For today’s politicians ‘The Troubles’ are ‘The Past’ and are treated with a past-tense approach.
However, for those who were directly impacted, the legacy of that terror and violence remains with them, and they continue to yearn for justice and accountability for the heinous and unjust actions which they were subjected.”