Amendment 116

Part of Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 29 March 2023.

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Photo of Lord Caine Lord Caine Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 9:30, 29 March 2023

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken to this group of amendments, and I am in great sympathy with just about every word that has been said. I can remember a number of years ago being in the Northern Ireland Office when a Republican parade was organised in Castlederg to commemorate two IRA bombers who had blown themselves up when taking a bomb into the town in the early 1970s. I remember meeting the Derg Valley victims’ group on that occasion and the total distress and anger that the parade was causing. At the time, we condemned it in pretty unequivocal terms. Noble Lords have referred to more recent examples such as young children chanting slogans such as “Up the Ra”. I recall last year that an Irish language rap group called Kneecap, which noble Lords will understand has a specific meaning in Northern Ireland, performed at a festival where they even unveiled a mural depicting a burning police car. It is horrendous.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, referred to sanitisation and my noble friend Lord Weir to the casualisation of terrorism. Other friends of mine have referred to the Disneyfication of terrorism, and it has become quite a problem. For the sake of absolute clarity, in condemning any glorification of terrorism I apply that equally to any attempts to glorify the activities of loyalist paramilitaries over the years. It remains my view, and the Government’s view, that no taking of human life was ever justified in the Troubles. To paraphrase John Hume, I think it was, no injustice, whether perceived or real, ever justified the taking of a single life in Northern Ireland.

In response to the specific amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Dodds, noble Lords will know that the Terrorism Act 2006 already makes illegal the encouragement of terrorism, and nothing in this Bill would prevent the prosecution of individuals who were deemed to have committed an offence under that legislation. However, we understand and sympathise with the principles and intent behind the amendments. It is clear that the society will never grow stronger and more united while individuals and organisations are involved in activities that risk progress on reconciliation and building a genuinely shared future for everybody. As ever, I take on the wise words of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames.

Any conduct that has the potential to retraumatise victims is clearly not something the Government will ever support. However, it is important to consider properly any amendment on these matters, including potential legal implications. I affirm that the Government remain open to constructive dialogue with noble Lords and all interested parties about how this issue of glorification might be appropriately addressed.

I turn to the issue of moving abroad to evade prosecution and Amendment 118 in the name of my noble friend Lord Dodds of Duncairn. If prior to entry into force of the Bill a decision has already been taken to prosecute an individual, that individual will not be able to apply for immunity. That would include somebody who has fled the jurisdiction in order to evade justice. Geographical location will have no impact on an individual’s liability for prosecution, or on the requirements which must be met to obtain immunity from prosecution. Individuals who reside abroad but who are not subject to an ongoing prosecution will, to be granted immunity by the commission, have to participate fully in this process on the same terms as everyone else. By applying for immunity, they will have to acknowledge their role in a Troubles-related incident—something they may be doing for the first time. They will then have to provide an account to the commission that the judge-led panel assesses as true to the best of their knowledge and belief. If the commission is not satisfied that the account provided is true to the best of an individual’s knowledge and belief, and should evidence exist, they remain liable for prosecution.

I turn to Amendments 148 and 167 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy. The Government understand and sympathise with their principle, which is to ensure that individuals who are granted immunity cannot subsequently participate in actions that financially reward them for the very same conduct for which they have received immunity.

The hour is late; we have been here a long time today. I will finish on this note. I remain open to constructive dialogue with noble Lords between now and Report about how these issues might be appropriately addressed. On that basis, I invite noble Lords not to press their amendments.