Troubles legislation to be changed to prevent immunity for rapists, says minister
The controversial Troubles legislation will be amended to prevent immunity for those responsible for serious sexual offences
The Government has confirmed they will amend the controversial Troubles legislation to prevent immunity being granted to those responsible for serious sexual offences.
Conor Burns, the Northern Ireland Minister announced the concession following mounting warnings by Conservative MPs to act or face defeat in a House of Commons vote.
Proposals sent out to MPs wish to establish a new information retrieval body to review the deaths and other harmful conduct within the Troubles – defined as the period from January 1, 1966, to April 10, 1998.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill will also offer immunity to people who are deemed to have co-operated with the information retrieval body, but criminal prosecutions could still take place.
Members of Parliament elevated concerns regarding the wording of the Bill, with Labour proposing an amendment to ensure certain offences of sexual violence – including rape – must not be treated as within the scope of immunity from prosecution.
Mr Burns initially pledged to “bring greater clarity” to the issue and review the matter, before announcing the Government would accept Labour’s proposal.
He added this was on the condition that further work will take place in the coming days to improve the amendment’s wording ahead of the Bill’s report stage on Monday.
Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Conservative MP Simon Hoare, made a statement on Wednesday, saying: "There is a very firm belief that sexual intimidation, sexual violence, rape was used as a tool of intimidation and criminality during the Troubles.
“Just for the sake of clarity and for peace of mind for those who are concerned about this issue, I would hope that this is something that the Government could move on to provide that piece of mind.”
Former Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith urged Mr Burns to accept the changes, with the option to make additional changes in the future.
As the debate on day one of the Bill’s committee stage came to an end, Mr Burns said: “I sought to explain this morning the Government’s thinking and why we were sure that the Bill as written would not have the perverse consequence that (Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle) feared.
“We have heard loud and clear the mood of the House and the wish of the House to see a greater clarity on the face of the Bill.
“And with that intent clear and our recognition of the mood of the House on that, we are willing to accept the amendment in the name of the Shadow Secretary of State on the condition that we will work over the course of the coming days to see if we can find refined wording that we can bring back to the House at report stage.”