Breakthrough news on the Troubles legacy. Legal critics of the UK government recommend a case by case amnesty

Prof Kieran McEvoy A get out of jail card has been produced by a group of academic lawyers who have spent years wrestling with the intractable problems of the Troubles legacy. The card would not only work for former soldiers facing charges, but also for the British government which is likely to face years in court if it tries to discriminate in their favour. Three weeks ago the  government suddenly abandoned the long discussed and  much consulted on plans originally …

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From abortion to coronavirus, Westminster rule is still decisive – if they choose to exercise it

The situation is replete with irony.   In the absence of the Assembly a formerly inert Westminster sprung into life to enact three controversial reforms; on same sex marriage, victims’ pensions (pending) and most controversially of all, abortion. Sinn Fein which only acknowledges any legal British authority over Northern Ireland with the greatest reluctance warmly welcomed Westminster’s imposition of the most radical shift possible from the most restrictive to the most sweeping abortion regulations in these islands; while the defenders of …

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Major battle likely over the UK government’s latest Legacy plans.

For those of us who don’t provide an essential service there will be time and energy  to spare for the matters I’ve  already  drawn attention to, such as  the government’s  latest Legacy proposals  produced last week. They abruptly overturned  everything that has gone before, reached after  years of tortuous  gestation and months of consultation,  concluding in July last year. They were contained in a brief statement above the name of the new Secretary of State Brandon Lewis: Reconciliation and information …

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What’s in the Coronavirus Bill?

This week the government intends to push its Coronavirus Bill through Parliament. In its “summary of impacts” document, the government states that the bill is “temporary, emergency legislation” which intends to “provide powers needed to respond to the current coronavirus epidemic.” MPs will be expected to grapple with the 300-page bill over the course of a few days. It will, for as long as it is in operation, fundamentally change our way of life. The legislation represents the biggest diminution …

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Commemorating the RIC and allowing an Irish Language Act are opposite sides of the same coin

 RTE The Irish government’s decision to commemorate the RIC in a major state ceremony is the right one precisely because it is as controversial as it is fundamental. There is no point in filling an entire decade with an orgy of self congratulation. The modern Irish state was born in insurgency and revolution is always controversial. But it is s also a reminder of that the state born out of revolution was part of a much longer continuum that is …

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In 2020, the fate of the Assembly will be one of the simpler issues

In agonising over terms for  recreating a functioning Stormont, the old chestnuts of an Irish Language Act and the petition of concern could be the easy bits – which is one reason why the DUP and Sinn Fein if they have any sense  at all, should grab at a deal. Truth to tell they are still in their comfort zone. Far more difficult issues are looming just a little way down the track. And it’s doubtful if the Assembly parties …

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Human rights: the Union’s best friend

The resolution of rights issues could help pave the way for a return of devolved government in 2020. What needs to be faced – by unionist parties above all others – is that Northern Ireland only has a long-term future if it can become a society that people of all backgrounds are happy to call home, knowing they and their rights will be respected. Those in favour of Northern Ireland having another 100 years, should start looking for ways to make it a beacon for human rights.

A limited amnesty not only for soldiers but for all? Another case of a Boris Johnson election wheeze, without understanding what he’s proposing?

The High Court in Belfast On Armistice Day Boris Johnson is announcing what he would like to think sounds like a partial amnesty for former soldiers involved in the Troubles as well as foreign engagements like Iraq and Afghanistan. The subject is of course emotive but the substance is far from clear. What does the proposal to draw a line under Troubles prosecutions really mean? Mr Johnson said the party will introduce legislation to ensure the Law of Armed Conflict …

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Now and Then

TW: This article contains references to sexual and domestic violence. On the 24th October 2017, the UK Supreme Court considered Northern Ireland’s abortion laws. The case was taken by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. In its judgment on the 7th June 2018, the Court found that the Commission did not have standing to take the case but found, obiter, that Northern Ireland’s laws breached Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The High Court in Belfast made …

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Total Recall: Assembly Edition

Last week 31 MLAs including the DUP, TUV and UUP signed a petition and sent it to the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly. That petition has led to a recall of the institutions. Tomorrow, the Assembly will sit for the first time since the death of Martin McGuinness. The prospect of the Assembly meeting again has many people raising questions. Can MLAs stop the introduction same sex marriage and abortion reform? Is there any prospect of a government being …

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The De Souza case has major constitutional ramifications for citizens’ rights in Northern Ireland

Emma DeSouza personal photo The Guardian reports Fundamental questions over the enforceability of the 1998 Good Friday agreement have been raised in a test case over the residency rights of an American who is married to a Derry woman. Emma DeSouza found herself at the centre of a legal battle after her application in 2015 for a residence card for her US-born husband, Jake DeSouza, was rejected. Any EU citizen living in the UK in accordance with EU regulations can bring their family …

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“This is our last chance to deal with the Troubles legacy”

Academics who produced a critique of the Stormont House Agreement (Legacy) Bill have mounted a powerful defence of the Bill itself and their 100 pages of “tweaks” of it before the Commons NI Committee. The essence of their strong rebuttal of Ulster Unionist attacks is that their holistic approach acknowledges where the balance of responsibility properly lies for Troubles deaths. The Bill would replace a piecemeal approach to Troubles cases carried out by a reluctant PSNI which for some has …

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Unionist concerns and fears of a united Ireland: where are the women?

Another day, another report into a united Ireland. This time Senator Mark Daly has published his findings on, ‘Unionist Concerns and fears of a United Ireland.’ The report is based on a recommendation given to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Daly’s research contains writings and submissions from unionist political figures such as Mike Nesbitt, Kyle Paisley and Trevor Ringland. Dr James Wilson, at the request of Senator Daly, also conducted focus groups with …

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Opening skirmishes continue before the desperate parliamentary battles to come..

Strictly speaking, the remarkable cross party  initiative to exploit the vacuum at Stormont and introduce abortion reform for NI is not about Brexit. But as diametrically opposed views about the governance and values of the Union are in contention, the two are inextricably linked. The little Ulster version of the Union is being challenged at last. The abortion initiative shows that like the struggles over Brexit, considerable numbers of Conservatives are prepared to put values and country above the interests …

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By acting on abortion and equal marriage, Westminster has changed the dynamic of the talks

One day in politics can change everything. The Northern Ireland Executive Formations Bill was, until the 9th July, an uninteresting piece of legislation. It proposes to amend the Northern Ireland (Executive and Exercise of Formations Bill) 2018, a law passed in the wake of the collapse of the Assembly. The Secretary of State introduced the 2019 Bill to extend the period in which an Executive must be formed until the 21st October 2019. There’s a clause allowing an extension of …

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Westminster stuns the local parties with the challenge: pass abortion and equal marriage laws or we’ll do it instead

You’ve read about the campaigns. Now read about the victory. The day started  with an anti climax. Dominic Grieve’s bid to thwart any attempt  to deny parliament a vote on No Deal wasn’t called by the Speaker. The attempts by Co Armagh born Labour MP’s Conor McGinn and Stella Creasy to legislate for abortion and same sex marriage were certain to fail for antagonising the DUP,  for coming at the wrong time with all this Brexit stuff about and for being …

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Push: a warning for Belfast

There’s a scene in ‘Push’ where Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, visits the home of a woman in Chile. The house sits atop a leafy hill and has the marks of being well lived in for decades. The woman looks despondent as she shows Leilani about, pointing out the window. Behind her, you can hear the roar of building work. It’s so loud that the camera seems to shake. The source of the noise is …

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Northern Ireland’s justice system weathers the storms of controversy in the continuing vacuum from government

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan  Still no word of a decision on the Legacy Bill and no surprise there either. The justice system ploughs on with handling legacy cases against a background of continuing controversy.  The Daily Telegraph’s campaign against former soldiers having to face trial continues, with the  “disgusted” reaction by appellant  78 year old Dennis Hutchings  to the Supreme Court’s decision that he will face trial by a judge alone. The real objection, held by a strong …

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Has a human rights culture gone too far? The subject of this year’s BBC Reith Lectures

Lord Sumption On what authority do we create “a rights based society”?  Is everything we call rights, actually rights or just preferences? Who arbitrates between competing rights? In what way are rights superior to ordinary law?  These are basic questions which lie behind the  claim often made in Northern Ireland that all rights are beyond legitimate dispute.  They also  lie at the heart of this year’s series of BBC Reith Lectures being given by Jonathan Sumption,  a recently retired  Supreme …

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