Anger in Northern Ireland at protection for British troops accused of historic killings

A coroner's inquest in Belfast found that 10 civilians were 'entirely innocent.'

Anger in Northern Ireland at protection for British troops accused of historic killings

DUBLIN — Relatives of 10 civilians killed by British soldiers in Belfast in August 1971 have condemned U.K. government plans to prevent the prosecution of former soldiers involved in disputed Northern Ireland killings.

Families of the dead demanded justice Tuesday after a Belfast judge published a mammoth report into the killings, capping a two-year coroner’s inquest involving 150 witnesses, among them 60 former soldiers.

Justice Siobhan Keegan concluded that, despite British army claims to have been shooting at Irish Republican Army gunmen, all 10 victims were “entirely innocent.”

The dead included a Catholic priest giving last rites to a wounded man and a mother of eight. All were killed over a three-day period in Ballymurphy, west Belfast, immediately after Northern Ireland’s government introduced internment without trial of IRA suspects.

Tuesday’s ruling coincided with the launch of the new legislative program for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government which was unveiled at the U.K. parliament’s state opening. It intends to introduce new laws to “address the legacy of the past” in Northern Ireland.

Part of that agenda includes blocking former soldiers from prosecution for any killings committed before the U.K. region’s 1998 peace accord, including former Parachute Regiment soldiers who committed the Ballymurphy killings.

More than a dozen relatives of the dead told a Belfast press conference they would legally challenge any government bid to shield their relatives’ killers from court. They accused the Ministry of Defence and Johnson of complicity.

“None of these soldiers have faced prosecutions,” said Briege Voyle, a daughter of 44-year-old Joan Connolly, who was fatally shot in the head. “No one should be above the law. We will not accept your amnesty for murderers.”

A Downing Street spokesperson said the government would “review the report and carefully consider the conclusions drawn.”

Source : Politico EU More   

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Boris Johnson boosts ‘leveling up’ plan with yet another task force

New unit to make good on flagship promise is expected to report directly to the cabinet secretary.

Boris Johnson boosts ‘leveling up’ plan with yet another task force

LONDON — Boris Johnson will try to make good on his “leveling up” election slogan with a new dedicated team of civil servants, POLITICO has learned.

“Leveling up” has been widely used since Johnson’s 2019 election victory to frame the U.K. prime minister’s ambition to tackle regional inequality. It was placed front and center of Johnson’s latest legislative program in the Queen’s Speech Tuesday.

In an expanded take on its meaning, the government has badged much of its domestic policy agenda as part of the “leveling up” plan, including its housing, education and climate goals.

Neil O’Brien, a Conservative MP and former Treasury aide, was recently recruited to advise Johnson on honing a strategy some have accused of lacking focus. 

In the latest bid to drive the program, officials have confirmed that a new “leveling up” task force is being set up, with responsibility shared between No. 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office.

It is understood the unit’s director will report directly to Simon Case, the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, and will lead a team of around 15 staff hand-picked from within the civil service, working in concert with O’Brien.  

One name being linked to the job of director is Tom Walker, currently director of environment strategy at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and former head of cities and growth in the Ministry of Housing. 

One former colleague of Walker said: “He is one of the only ones at the top level who is both brilliant and able to work the machinery, respected by regional leaders and by the Tories.”

The move places yet another big policy conundrum under the remit of Michael Gove’s Cabinet Office, which has already claimed responsibility for a COVID-19 task force, a Union unit to try to stave off the threat of Scottish independence, and a review of vaccine passports.

A “delivery” unit was also added to No. 10 last month to oversee progress on manifesto policies.

The government on Tuesday spelled out its intention to publish a white paper this year with detail of how different policies under the “leveling up” umbrella are affecting living standards in the U.K.

A Whitehall official said the timing of the next election will depend on “defensible progress” made by O’Brien and civil servants against the agenda, which is perceived as key to cementing Conservative gains in traditional Labour-voting areas.

Source : Politico EU More   

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