Families of victims of the Troubles have called on the Taoiseach to take action to oppose the British government’s legacy Bill.
The UK’s Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill would provide immunity for people accused of crimes during the Troubles, as long as they co-operate with a new truth recovery body known as the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (Icrir).
It would also halt future civil cases and inquests linked to killings during the conflict.
The Bill, which is currently making its way through the British parliament, has been widely criticised by Northern Ireland’s political parties, the Irish Government and victims’ groups.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met members of the Wave Trauma Centre and family members of the so-called Disappeared and other legacy Troubles victims at Government Buildings on Monday.
Maria Lynskey, whose uncle Joe Lynskey went missing in May 1972, said the families of the Disappeared wanted to keep their stories in the public attention until their bodies are recovered.
She feared “time is running out” as all but one of his siblings, who is now in her 90s, have died.
“My uncle is coming on to 51 years in a bog, and it was 30-odd years before we even knew there was such a secrecy around him.”
She said she wanted to ensure his existence is marked by the burial of his remains in a family grave.
“Somebody might just have some information. There’s not much information on my uncle, how long can it go on for?”
Ms Lynskey said she was hopeful the Taoiseach may be able to spur some action to support the families.
Pat Molloy, whose son John was killed in Belfast in 1996, said the legacy Bill would prevent families from receiving justice.
“If they lost a loved one, a brother, a son, a sister – would you not want justice? Of course they would.
“What’s the difference in my son’s murder and a boy over in London being murdered? There’s no difference at all, except over in London they get the perpetrators.
“In Belfast, they don’t get the perpetrators. Just another number. I’m here to tell them John’s not another number.
“He was a good lad and he was a proud son of ours and he was brutally murdered. He deserves justice.”
He said the British government was “hellbent” on getting the legacy Bill through the House of Lords, which he said was against what Northern Ireland’s politicians wanted.
“We need justice for our loved ones, we need justice for John.”
Mr Molloy said the families had a “good meeting” with the Taoiseach.
“He looked at us at all and listened to us telling him ‘For goodness sake, get this [UK] government off their butts and get this legacy [Bill] put to bed’.”
Fine Gael senator Emer Currie accompanied the families to their meeting. She described the Bill as “cynical”.
“We’re at the point now where the British government are starting to appoint people to the Icrir.
“That’s a statement of intent. They’ve turned up the temperature. We know it is their goal to pass this legislation by the summer.
“So this meeting is to impress on the Taoiseach the need for action on the Irish Government’s side to prevent this Bill going through.”
She said she had no faith that “game-changing amendments” promised by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris would change the Bill from being perpetrator-centred to victim-led.
Wave Trauma Centre chief executive Sandra Peake said they were hoping to highlight the concerns of those whose loved ones had been Disappeared and those who were impacted by Troubles-era killings.
She said there is “a lot of fear” around the Bill as it is currently worded.
“For many people, the past is not the past – it is very much the present.
“Whereby the people who took their loved ones away and murdered them, continue to sneer at them, jeer at them and smile at them as a form of ongoing threat.”
She said the Bill would feed injustice, pass trauma on to further generations and “in some ways, allow the past to be rewritten”.
Ms Peake said the meeting was “very positive”.
“I hope today we left the Taoiseach with a firm view of what we believe are the fundamental drawbacks regarding the legacy legislation and what needs to happen for the future.”
She said the Taoiseach took on board what the group had to say.
British and Irish governments must act over Stormo…
“What’s being offered is a perpetrator-friendly bill which puts the perpetrator’s needs before the survivors. Fundamentally, that’s wrong.
“We also believe in relation to how the Bill is structured, that it will not deliver what we believe victims and survivors need.
“That is a victim and survivors-centred process which puts their needs centre stage and gives due regard to their loved one’s case.”