Troubled Justice

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Violence between British-backed Protestants and Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland has been relatively subdued in recent memory compared to the street fighting decades ago, when, as one BBC story illustrated, British troops huddled for safety behind their armored vehicles.

Peace in Northern Ireland has not stopped dueling lawsuits over the legacy of the so-called Troubles, a period of conflict that lasted from the late 1960s to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, however.

At issue is the recently passed Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act, a British measure that would move cases related to the Troubles from criminal and civil courts to an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.

“The trouble with legacy is that the more those waters are stirred the murkier they become,” wrote the editorial board of the Belfast Telegraph. “And every time they begin to settle and clear, something else comes along to cloud the picture. And any sense of truth or justice for families bereaved throughout Northern Ireland’s difficult past seems further away than ever.”

As the Irish Times explained, the commission would be empowered to grant conditional amnesties for those who otherwise might be found guilty of murder or similar misdeeds in other legal settings. Its main task would be to collect information about the turbulent, controversial period when Irish Catholics took to the streets to demand unification with Ireland, the independent republic to the south.

Irish leaders criticized the bill, saying it would forestall justice for Northern Irish families and victims who perished during the Troubles. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced that Ireland would file a lawsuit against the bill under the European Convention on Human Rights, reported UPI. British officials responded by claiming that their Irish counterparts had failed to investigate cases related to the conflict.

More than 3,500 people died in violence during the Troubles, added Al Jazeera, citing British government figures. Investigators are still probing the circumstances of 1,200 deaths, while officials are still poring through claims for compensation for victims, noted the Irish News.

According to the Guardian, the British government is wrong on the issue. The law could result in the commission granting immunity to witnesses in exchange for information that would shed light on the violence that both sides perpetrated in the period. This immunity, however, would snub victims’ families who want justice.

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