The government has announced it is effectively ending all prosecutions related to crimes committed during the Northern Ireland Troubles.
Described as a de facto amnesty for former British soldiers and former paramilitaries, the new statute of limitations will apply to incidents prior to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
It was confirmed in parliament on Wednesday by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis.
“We know that the prospect of the end of criminal prosecutions will be difficult for some to accept and this is not a position we take lightly,” he told MPs.
“But we’ve come to the view that this is the best and only way to facilitate an effective information retrieval and provision process, and the best way to help Northern Ireland move further along the road to reconciliation.
“It is in reality a painful recognition of the very reality of where we are.”
Mr Lewis said it was “clear the current system for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles is not working”.
“It’s now a difficult, in fact painful, truth that the focus on criminal investigations is increasingly unlikely to deliver successful criminal justice outcomes, but all the while it continues to divide communities and it fails to obtain answers for a majority of victims and families,” he added.
Mr Lewis said the government would legislate to set up a new independent body to focus on the recovery and provision of information about Troubles-related deaths and most serious injuries.
“This body will be focused on helping families to find out the truth of what happened to their loved ones. Where families do not want the past raked over again they would be able to make this clear,” he said.
“For those families that want to get answers, the body will have the full powers to seek access to information and find out what happened.”
The move is opposed by all five of the main political parties in Northern Ireland and by the Irish government.
Democratic Unionist Party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said it would be “rejected by everyone in Northern Ireland who stands for justice and the rule of law”.
It has been driven by a government pledge to end the historical prosecution of soldiers who served in Northern Ireland.
But many victims say they can’t believe veterans would want an amnesty that also applies to the very terrorists who murdered their comrades.
It is 30 years since Kathleen Gillespie’s husband Patsy was murdered in a particularly brutal IRA attack.
They chained him to a van containing a bomb, held his family at gunpoint and ordered him to drive it to a military base.
The 1,200lb bomb exploded at the Coshquin base near the border, killing the father-of-three and five British soldiers.
Kathleen said: “I feel robbed. I have this thing in my head that when it’s an important person that’s been killed, their thing is investigated and their thing is solved.
“We’re just the ordinary common people so it’s alright to push us to the one side,” she added.
Thirteen civilians were shot dead and a 14th fatally wounded when the British Parachute Regiment opened fire in Londonderry in January 1972.
Only one veteran was charged with murder but the case against ‘Soldier F’ was halted last week by public prosecutors.
Mickey McKinney, whose brother William was one of the victims, feels an amnesty only adds to the pain of Bloody Sunday.
Forty-nine years on, his memories of 30 January, 1972, remain vivid and he is fiercely opposed to any statute of limitations in Northern Ireland.
He recalled: “We were trying to escape the effects of the gas and I remember turning round and I saw the Paras coming in.
“I don’t trust the British government. Would you trust them if they murdered your brother and told lies about him?”
Relatives of victims of the Birmingham pub bombings have described the plans as “obscene”.
Julie Hambleton, whose older sister Maxine was among 21 people killed in the 1974 blasts in Birmingham, has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on behalf of the Justice 4 The 21 campaign group to decry the planned legislation.
“Tell me prime minister, if one of your loved ones was blown up beyond recognition, where you were only able to identify your son or daughter by their fingernails because their face had been burned so severely from the blast and little of their remains were left intact, would you be so quick to agree to such obscene legislation being implemented?” Ms Hambleton asked.
“You would do everything in your power to find the murderers and bring them to justice, which is exactly what we campaign for every day.”
Rishi Sunak scraps government taskforce aimed at saving energy and lowering bills
A government taskforce intended to help people save energy and lower their bills has been disbanded after just six months.
The Energy Efficiency Taskforce was set up by the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, in March to boost uptake of insulation and boiler upgrades in homes and commercial buildings.
It included Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, along with bosses of banks, housing developers and behavioural experts – aiming to drive a 15 per cent reduction in energy usage by 2030.
The group had four meetings but were yet to make any formal recommendations. Energy efficiency minister Lord Callanan wrote to them yesterday to say their work would be incorporated into the work of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.
Jess Ralston, an energy analyst at non-profit group the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, told Sky News: “This appears to be yet another u-turn that could lead to higher bills just like the prime minister’s decision last week to roll back landlord insulation standards that could leave renters paying an additional £8bn on energy bills.”
One figure familiar with the taskforce discussions blamed the Treasury for not being willing to consider radical measures to incentivise families and businesses to take up the measures. One idea suggested was stamp duty reform.
The person said: “The Treasury spent £40bn last winter on energy support payments but wouldn’t spend £1-2bn on energy efficiency incentives which would save people money on their bills. It’s short-sighted”.
A Treasury source rejected this, and said: “Our commitment to energy efficiency has not changed one iota”
They added the decision to close the taskforce had been taken by the Department for Energy and Net Zero, created in February this year.
The taskforce was chaired by Lord Callanan and the former NatWest Group chief executive Alison Rose who resigned from the bank in July in a row over the closure of Nigel Farage’s account. It was intended to stimulate private sector investment and identify barriers in the market.
PM overhauls climate policies
A spokesperson for the department confirmed the taskforce was being disbanded and said: “We would like to thank the Energy Efficiency Taskforce for its work in supporting our ambition to reduce total UK energy demand by 15% from 2021 levels by 2030.
“We have invested £6.6bn in energy efficiency upgrades this Parliament and will continue to support families in making their homes more efficient, helping them to cut bills while also achieving net zero in a pragmatic, proportionate and realistic way.”
It comes after the prime minister made a speech this week rowing back on parts of the green agenda pursued by his predecessors – with targets relaxed for phasing out petrol and diesel cars, upgrading boilers and for landlords to make their properties energy efficient.
The oldest housing stock in Europe
Insulating homes is key to meeting the UK’s net zero target in 2050 – which remains in place. The UK has the oldest housing stock in Europe with millions of draughty, poorly insulated homes.
It had been estimated six million homes would need to be insulated by 2030 to reach the government’s target of reducing energy usage by 15%.
Ed Miliband, Labour’s Shadow Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, criticised the move.
“Every family is paying the price in higher energy bills due to 13 years of Tory failure on insulating homes.” he said.
“After Rishi Sunak’s track record as chancellor with the disastrous Green Homes Grant, this is another short-sighted decision that will cost families money.”
Energy efficiency in England’s homes has increased since 2010, when just 14% were in the highest efficiency bands A to C. By 2020, it was 46%, according to the English Housing Survey. For homes that were improved to a Band C level, the annual energy saving was £282 per year.
Coinbase CEO warns against AI regulation, calls for decentralization
Brian Armstrong, the CEO of crypto exchange Coinbase, expressed his stance on artificial intelligence (AI) regulation in a recent post on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter).
On Sept. 23, Armstrong explained that he believes that AI should not be regulated. According to the Coinbase CEO, the AI space needs to develop as soon as possible because of reasons such as national security. In addition, Armstrong also noted that despite the best intentions of regulators, regulation “has unintended consequences,” arguing that it kills innovation and competition.
Count me as someone who believes AI should not be regulated
We need to make progress on it as fast as possible for many reasons (including national security). And the track record on regulation is that it has unintended consequences and kills competition/innovation, despite best…
— Brian Armstrong ️ (@brian_armstrong) September 22, 2023
The Coinbase executive cited the internet as an example. Armstrong believes there was a “golden age of innovation” on the internet and software because it was not regulated. The Coinbase CEO suggested the same should be applied to AI technology.
Furthermore, Armstrong also presented an alternative to regulation in terms of protecting the AI space. According to the executive, it would be better to “decentralize it and open source it to let the cat out of the bag.”
Meanwhile, various jurisdictions across the globe have either started to regulate AI or express concerns about its potential effects. On Aug. 15, China’s provisional guidelines for AI activity and management came into effect. The regulations were published on July 10 and were a joint effort between six of the country’s government agencies. This is the first set of AI rules implemented within the country amid the recent AI boom.
In the United Kingdom, the competition regulator studied AI in order to identify its potential impact on competition and consumers. On Sept. 18, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority concluded that while AI has the potential to change people’s work and lives, the changes may happen too fast and could have a significant impact on competition.
Rishi Sunak considering banning cigarettes for next generation – reports
Rishi Sunak is considering a recommendation that would effectively ban cigarettes for the next generation.
The prime minister could introduce some of the world’s toughest anti-smoking measures by steadily increasing the legal age for consuming tobacco, according to The Guardian, citing Whitehall sources.
The paper said it also understood Mr Sunak’s leadership pledge to fine people £10 for missing a GP or hospital appointment could be under consideration once more.
Downing Street did not deny Mr Sunak was considering adopting a more stringent approach to smoking.
Last year a major review led by Dr Javed Khan backed England following New Zealand’s plan to impose a gradually rising smoking age to prevent tobacco being sold to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009.
Dr Khan recommended “increasing the age of sale from 18, by one year, every year until no one can buy a tobacco product in this country”.
If implemented by 2026, it would mean anyone aged 15 and under now would never be able to buy a cigarette.
However, health minister Neil O’Brien appeared to reject adopting that approach in April, when he said the government’s policy for achieving a smoke-free nation by its 2030 target would focus on “helping people to quit” rather than applying bans.
But it is now understood Mr Sunak is looking at different policy advice on how to reach England’s smoke-free target.
In his government-commissioned report published in June 2022, Dr Khan said without urgent action England would miss the 2030 target by at least seven years, with the poorest areas not meeting it until 2044.
He put the annual cost to society of smoking at about £17bn – £2.4bn to the NHS alone.
‘Smoking is a deadly habit’ – government
A government spokesperson said: “Smoking is a deadly habit – it kills tens of thousands of people each year and places a huge burden on the NHS and the economy.
“We want to encourage more people to quit and meet our ambition to be smoke free by 2030, which is why we have already taken steps to reduce smoking rates.
“This includes providing one million smokers in England with free vape kits via our world first ‘swap to stop’ scheme, launching a voucher scheme to incentivise pregnant women to quit and consulting on mandatory cigarette pack inserts.”
The legal age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products in England and Wales is 18, having been raised from 16 in 2007 by the previous Labour government.
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