My Lords, in this group, I will speak to Amendments 116, 117, 118, 127, 132 and 177 in my name and those of my noble friends. Amendment 116 would
“require an individual to be disengaged from activity which would be reasonably regarded as precluding reconciliation in order to be eligible for immunity from prosecution.”
Of course, at Second Reading, we debated at some length the general issues regarding the Bill, but we now come to the glorification of terrorism, which has become a very real issue in Northern Ireland over recent months and the last number of years, with the rising tide of people engaged in such activity. We have seen sickening videos of many young people, born long after the ceasefires and the Belfast agreement, seemingly revelling in glorifying IRA terrorism. Others engage in other activities on their side as well, but it seems particularly prevalent among young republicans, and it is causing real concern that there seems to be a sanitisation of the IRA’s murderous campaign.
This is not helped by the vice-president of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, who has gone around telling people that there was no alternative to the IRA’s campaign. But of course, as the leaders of democratic nationalism made clear during all of those years, there always was an alternative and there was never an excuse for murder, violence and mayhem. When that is the sort of leadership—or lack of leadership —provided, it is little wonder that people now take their lead from that and say, “If this is what our leaders are saying, we should glorify these people and celebrate them”, rather than making it clear that there was no space for such murderous activity. That is of course compounded by numerous examples of leading Sinn Féin elected representatives attending memorials, eulogising terrorists, praising their past activities and justifying murder today. It is one thing to have supported this kind of murderous campaign at the time, but still to eulogise that murderous activity nowadays is totally unacceptable.
The building in which the MP for South Down has his office is named after two IRA terrorists. You can hardly say that that is inclusive and welcoming. You have GAA clubs commemorating IRA terrorists on their property—not in their capacity as members of the GAA club, or even as part of the GAA in general, but as volunteers in the Provisional IRA in East Tyrone. This is doing absolutely nothing for people’s faith in the restoration of the devolved Administration at Stormont. We debated earlier the issues around that, including all the concerns, difficulties and challenges. There is a very toxic situation in Northern Ireland at the moment, and there are many examples where those elected to the Stormont Assembly are acting in a way which is, I fear, stoking the flames of sectarianism and stoking this toxic atmosphere in which violence is eulogised and glorified.
In this group of amendments, we are putting forward an attempt to tackle some of those issues, and we are seeking for the Government to take on board the real concerns in this area—reconciliation and legacy. We need to address seriously the ongoing problem of the glorification of violence. I thank the Minister for his engagement with me and my colleagues and for our discussions thus far. I hope that we can find a way forward to try to deal with this matter as part of the Bill.
“Reconciliation”, which I have already mentioned, is contained in the title of the Bill. But, as we have noted, it appears that there is not much of substance in relation to reconciliation in the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, and others have pointed out. There is very little reference to the concept. We believe that it should be made clear in Clause 18 that the conditions for immunity—which are outlined in Clause 18(1)—should be applied not just at the point when the perpetrator applies for immunity but thereafter, so that, if an individual is engaged in activity which could be reasonably regarded as precluding reconciliation by glorifying violence, eroding support for the rule of law or retraumatising victims, that will have an effect on their status of immunity, if the Bill is to go through.
Of course, it is important to stress that the harm posed by such activity extends much further than just the injustice of a perpetrator seeking or obtaining personal reward or profit from his or her criminal deeds. That is why, while I have no difficulty with the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, Amendments 148 and 167, I do not believe that they go far enough. This condition should also capture any conduct, speech or written material that has the effect, or can be reasonably regarded to have the effect, of influencing public opinion on the past in such a way that justifies and sanitises violence. It should also cover the situation in which an individual attempts to contact relatives of victims without their consent.
I shall go reasonably quickly through the amendments, because it has been a long day thus far, but it is important to outline briefly what they attempt to do. Amendment 117 would
“require the Commissioner for Investigations to refer a file to the PPS when an individual is found to have engaged in activity likely to prevent reconciliation”.
In a scenario where the immunity request panel receives conclusive evidence that an applicant or recipient of immunity is engaged in activity that runs against the grain of reconciliation for the crimes that they have perpetrated, the ICRIR should be under an obligation to assess whether they have committed an offence under the Terrorism Act or the separate, aggravated offence that we propose in respect of the glorification of terrorism in Amendment 177. There should be a duty to pass a file to the Public Prosecution Service for direction. That link between potential possible identified offences and criminal enforcement should be clear in the Bill.
“is intended to prevent the grant of immunity to any person subject to active proceedings who has moved abroad to escape prosecution”.
This is a separate amendment, not so much on the issue that I have spoken about thus far but related to it. We have had examples of well-known individuals who have left the jurisdiction, gone abroad and escaped prosecution. As drafted, the Bill could have the effect of encouraging such people to return to Northern Ireland to live out their final days there in close proximity to those whom they have terrorised. That is because there is no stipulation for anyone previously subject to a warrant, arrest or charge, who subsequently fled Northern Ireland, to be prohibited from claiming immunity. The amendment seeks to address that issue.
“is intended to clarify that the granting of immunity under this Bill does not preclude prosecution of an individual for offences of encouraging and glorifying terrorism”.
Legitimate concerns have been raised surrounding the framing of general immunity. In the other place, colleagues tabled amendments in an effort to get more clarity on the parameters of this issue. It is prudent that the wording of Clause 18 should prevent the perpetrator from contending that the scope of his or her immunity extends to waiving criminal liability for activities that encourage or glorify terrorism. Immunity must be specific to offences that the conduct disclosed by an individual clearly identifies involvement in. Precluding prosecution for a Troubles-related offence under certain conditions is entirely different from that offence no longer being treated as criminal under the law. In truth, those lines should never have been allowed to become blurred.
I have referred to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, and we have a lot of sympathy with them, as I say. But we believe that, in ruling out the idea of profit from people’s crimes, the legislation should go further. It is not enough simply to say that a recipient of immunity cannot obtain reward from exploiting their offence: the act of speaking or writing about the offence in such a way that promotes or glorifies it should itself be prohibited, whether or not reward is in play.
I beg to move, and look forward to hearing the contributions of other noble Lords and noble Baronesses.