The majority of the UK public has joined with everybody, including Northern Ireland political parties and the Irish government, to oppose the British government's controversial Troubles legislation.
That’s according to an Amnesty International poll, which found nine in 10 UK adults said that perpetrators should still be prosecuted for serious crimes even if they were committed decades ago, while only six percent say they should not.
A UK government-appointed commission, or truth recovery body, will from next May take over the investigation of hundreds of unsolved Troubles deaths. It will operate under the terms of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.
The bill will provide immunity for perpetrators accused of conflict-related offenses as long as they cooperate with the new truth recovery body. It would also halt future civil cases and inquests linked to The Troubles.
Victims’ groups, the main Stormont parties, and the Irish government are all opposed to the controversial legislation which comes before the House of Lords for further scrutiny this week.
The legislation was branded a “total disaster” by the former Church of Ireland Primate Robin Eames in the Lords in January. He said he never came across such widespread opposition to a proposal.
This week, Ireland's Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, chaired by Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, called on the UK government to withdraw the bill.
The bill is supported only by British army veterans’ groups and the London government.
The Amnesty poll indicated that six in 10 Conservative Party voters believed those accused of Troubles killings should not receive immunity from prosecution in exchange for providing information about the crimes.
Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International UK’s Northern Ireland deputy director, said, “These figures could not be clearer. The majority of the UK is opposed to this bill.
“It is out of step with victims, out of step with the government’s own electorate and, as this poll shows, at odds with public opinion across the UK
“The UK government has continued to ignore widespread concern from the UN, Council of Europe bodies, Congress, Irish Parliament, Amnesty, and many others.
“If they push this bill through, they will also now be ignoring their own voters. These figures must give the government pause. It is, quite frankly, reckless to proceed with a Bill so strongly opposed.”
Other findings from the poll, carried out by Savanta and in which 2,171 adults were interviewed online earlier this month, show that 65 percent of UK adults support access to independent inquests for victims and/or the families of victims of serious crimes, such as murder.
In May, former lord chief justice for Northern Ireland, Sir Declan Morgan, was nominated as chief commissioner of the truth recovery body – the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.
He said he was aware of the opposition but also hoped that the Irish government will cooperate with his inquiry.
*This column first appeared in the June 28 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.