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British govt announces policy reversal on investigations into Northern Ireland Troubles killings

British govt announces policy reversal on investigations into Northern Ireland Troubles killings
The British government has said it will not fund probes into unsolved killings dating from the period of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, backtracking on an earlier agreement with the Irish government and NI political parties.

London said Tuesday that a new independent body would be formed to investigate the killings, saying that this would put an “end to the cycle of reinvestigations.”

The latest announcement is a significant departure from agreements made during the Stormont House negotiations in 2014, which dealt with numerous contentious Troubles’ legacy issues, including how the nearly 2,000 unsolved murders would be investigated.

The policy shift was announced amid worries in the Conservatory Party that retired British soldiers and police officers could be pursued for their roles in the killings. PM Boris Johnson had previously promised to end what he termed “vexatious” prosecutions against former British soldiers.

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Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said Wednesday that victims were “at the heart” of the new approach and that Britain owes a “huge debt of gratitude” to its armed forces for their service in NI — a statement that will be contentious among nationalists in the north of Ireland. He said the proposals “put an end to repeated reinvestigations” and “deliver on our promise to protect veterans from vexatious claims.”

Responding to the announcement, Irish Tánaiste (Deputy PM) and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the position of Dublin remains clear that the Stormont House Agreement “is the way forward” on legacy issues.

“It was agreed by both Governments and the political parties after intensive negotiations, and it must be implemented,” Coveney said, adding that any change to that framework “must be discussed and agreed” by both governments, as well as the northern parties.

Michelle O’Neill, the leader of Sinn Féin in the Northern Ireland Assembly, said the about-face was a “unilateral move by the British government to rewrite the Stormont House Agreement without consulting the political parties or the Irish government” and that the agreed structures can’t be “cherry picked.”

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“There can be no hierarchy of victims and no one, including British State Forces, can be above the law,” she said.

The new body will assess whether there is “new compelling evidence and a realistic prospect of a prosecution” before any investigation goes ahead, which will come as a surprise to families and victims’ organizations.

Coveney said that investigations should be held into all Troubles’ deaths “regardless of the perpetrator” and that Dublin would “not support a proposal to introduce any special measure or treatment” of “state or non-state” actors. He said he would be speaking to Lewis to discuss the next steps forward soon.

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