No 'statute of limitations' in NIO draft legacy paper

By Mark Devenport
BBC News NI Political Editor

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image captionSome Conservative MPs want a "statute of limitations" to prevent security force members being prosecuted for offences early in the Troubles

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has circulated a draft consultation document on legacy matters to the main Stormont parties.

It is understood the draft does not contain a controversial suggestion for a so-called statute of limitations.

It would have prevented the prosecution of former soldiers for offences connected to the Troubles.

In November, NIO sources indicated the consultation could include questions about the statute of limitations.

The idea received support from some Conservative MPs who objected to former soldiers being pursued in relation to cases dating back to the 1970s.

In the Commons last week, senior Conservative backbencher Julian Lewis said it would be a "retrograde step" if the legacy consultation did not consider the proposal.

However, the Irish government and nationalist politicians strongly opposed the inclusion of a statute of limitations proposal in any consultation.

'Meaningful consultation'

In March, Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson predicted that the consultation would not include what she referred to as the "amnesty" proposal.

At the weekend the DUP leader Arlene Foster said: "The time is now right for the Government to take forward a meaningful consultation which can allow those who have suffered so much to study the detail of its contents.

"Most importantly, victims must be able to see that their opinions will shape what emerges at the other end.

"I have told the Government that there is widespread support across the parties to launch the consultation process."

There are indications that the consultation document could be published within days.

It is understood the Stormont parties have initially been asked to endorse the decision to press ahead with the consultation, rather than to comment on its details.

image captionUUP MLA Doug Beattie said he was frustrated over the NIO's handling of the consultation


One source said the document mirrors the proposals already published as part of the Stormont House Agreement, although it's thought a suggested Oral History Archive may have been provided with stronger statutory backing.

The Ulster Unionist Justice spokesperson, Doug Beattie, has expressed his "frustration and anger" at how the NIO has handled the proposed consultation.

Mr Beattie said the Ulster Unionists have been asking for meetings with the Northern Ireland Office without success in recent months.

The Upper Bann MLA said he wanted to raise his concerns prior to publication about issues such as the statute of limitations, the definition of a victim and pensions for those injured during the Troubles.

The Ulster Unionists also fear that a new Historical Investigations Unit could effectively operate as "a parallel police force".

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