September 22, 2022

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The controversial Bill to tackle Northern Ireland’s troubled past is still open to negotiations, the UK’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said.

Shailesh Vara was speaking during a visit to Derry on Thursday, the day after Northern Ireland Office minister Lord Caine held talks with victims’ groups.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill has already been through the House of Commons and goes before the House of Lords in the autumn.

It proposes a form of amnesty for perpetrators of Troubles crimes in exchange for co-operation with a new truth body, and also ends inquests and civil proceedings related to the conflict.

The Bill has been almost universally opposed by political parties and victims’ groups.

Mr Vara said he believes most people would like to have a way forward on dealing with the past.

“A legacy Bill is going through parliament but it is still open to negotiations, it is open to consultation, we are still in listening mode, we are still talking, there is still room for making amendments,” he told the BBC.

“So I want to be absolutely clear, we are still listening and we are ready to make changes as and when necessary.”

However, Sinn Féin accused Mr Vara of failing to engage with victims and families in Derry on Thursday.

“The British secretary of state slipped off like a thief in the night up a one-way street just to avoid speaking to victims and families in Derry today,” Sinn Féin MLA Ciara Ferguson said.

“Once again, a Tory minister has demonstrated a total disregard for the victims and families who are opposed to its Bill of shame.

“The British government is forcing through its legacy plans and ignoring opposition from victims and families, all political parties on this island, the Irish Government and the human rights commission, who have branded it flawed.

“People see this plan as more cover-up by a Tory government that wants to let its own state forces off the hook for killing Irish citizens during the conflict and shut down a route to justice.

“Rather than ducking and diving from families, the British secretary of state should listen to their views and respect their wishes.”

— PA

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