British MPs voted 292 - 200 on Tuesday, July 18 to disagree with an amendment to the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill that would remove the conditional immunity clause.

The amendment, passed in the House of Lords in June, sought to remove a clause from the Bill that would prevent the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) from granting a person immunity from prosecution.

In a statement on Tuesday, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris said: “In the Lords, the Government was narrowly defeated on just two amendments. Peers voted to remove the immunity clauses from the Bill and voted for each review to be carried out to a criminal justice standard.

“We are grateful to those who suggested ways to strengthen the conditional immunity process, and - after listening carefully - we have tabled several amendments which do that. 

“However, we cannot agree to an amendment which would altogether remove the conditional immunity clauses from the Bill.

“This Government believes that the conditional immunity provisions will be key in helping to generate the greatest volume of information, in the quickest possible time, to pass on to families and victims who have been waiting for so long. 

“I know that this approach is challenging for many, but we must address the legacy of the past in a different way if we are to achieve better outcomes for many who have waited for decades.”

The legislation will now be returned to the House of Lords, though according to BBC, it is now unlikely that the UK government will get the Bill through Parliament before MPs begin their summer break on Thursday, July 20.

"Reckless legislation"

Speaking after Heaton-Harris on Tuesday, North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly, Sinn Féin's policing spokesperson, said: “The British Government should scrap its flawed Legacy Bill and end the fiction that it can contribute anything to reconciliation.

“The reality is that this bill is about prolonging state cover-ups and denying truth to families about the deaths of their loved ones.

“Some of those families have been waiting for truth and justice for more than 50 years and this bill which will deny families access to the courts is cruel, callous and in breach of international law and international human rights standards.

“This reckless legislation is being rushed through and ignores opposition from victims and families, all the political parties on the island of Ireland, human rights experts, the UN, as well as officials in the US and EU.

“The British government should scrap this legislation and get on with implementing the legacy mechanisms agreed at Stormont House by the two governments and political parties in 2014 in a human rights' compliant manner.” 

Cruel and callous legacy bill will prolong the cover-ups – @GerryKellyMLA

— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) July 18, 2023

In the US, Danny O’Connell, President of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), said: “Only one group favors this legislation: those who wish to hide their misdeeds in the shadows of injustice and airbrush from history the true nature of the British Government's activities in Northern Ireland.”

O’Connell again called upon all elected US leaders to denounce the UK's legacy bill. 

“To remain silent is not the act of a friend but the actions of an accessory after the fact,” he said. “If the Sunak government persists in this bill, the United States must reevaluate and reconsider ‘the special relationship.’”

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, introduced by the UK Government on May 17, 2022, would end Troubles-related legal proceedings and give conditional immunity to those cooperating with investigations by a newly established Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).

Future prosecutions would only be possible where immunity was not granted, following a referral from the ICRIR. However, it will not be possible to grant immunity to an individual who has already been convicted, or if a prosecution has already begun against them.

Additionally, the Bill would prevent investigations into Troubles-related conduct, other than those conducted by the ICRIR; prevent prosecutions for Troubles-related offenses which do not involve, or are not connected to offenses involving, death or serious injury; prevent future civil claims being brought in relation to Troubles-related conduct, and bring to an end those initiated after the Bill’s introduction; bring to an end inquests which have not reached an advanced stage, and prevent future inquests into Troubles-related deaths; initiate a programme of memorialization of the Troubles. 

The UK House of Commons Library acknowledges that the Bill "has generally been welcomed by veterans’ representatives" but that some victims' groups "have expressed concern" about conditional immunity.

Further, there is "some uncertainty" whether the proposals are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), though the UK government believes the measures are compatible with the ECHR.