Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has said there should be a “level playing pitch” for all victims as her party stepped up its opposition to British Government plans to introduce a statute of limitations on Troubles prosecutions.
Mrs McDonald and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill met on Tuesday with the families of five people killed by the British army in Springhill in west Belfast in 1972.
Ms O’Neill has written to Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and vowed to push back against the government plans.
Mr Lewis announced earlier this month that he intends to introduce legislation to create a proposed statute of limitations which would end all prosecutions for incidents up to April 1998 and would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries.
The proposals, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson said would allow Northern Ireland to “draw a line under the Troubles”, would also end all legacy inquests and civil actions related to the conflict.
But the plan has been heavily criticised by all the main political parties in Northern Ireland as well as the Irish Government, and a range of victims’ and survivors’ groups.
Mrs McDonald said the Springhill families were awaiting inquests scheduled for next year over the five deaths, but that had now been placed in doubt by the government move.
She said: “The families are distraught and frankly very, very angry at any suggestion that 49 years later they would be still left with no answers.”
The Sinn Fein president answered criticism from some within the victims’ sector who have accused her party of hypocrisy because they have been given no answers over deaths caused by the republican movement.
“Every single family, every victim and survivor is equally entitled to truth and justice."
“We are not creating a selective process or a hierarchy of hurt or victimhood," she said.
“When we agreed the Stormont House proposals we landed on that blend of measures which afforded to every victim and survivor the opportunity to get closure, to get facts, to get truth and justice.
The Sinn Féin president said they want a level playing pitch for every victim and survivor.
“We believe that the Stormont House Agreement provided for that. We haven’t scuppered that, the British Government has scuppered that.
“I would say to those families, they are entitled to their truth and justice.”
Ms O’Neill added: “Just like the Springhill families that we met here today and all the other families we have met, we are not giving up.
“We are going to push back as hard as we possibly can about what the British Government are proposing to do.
“Everyone is saying this is the wrong thing to do so we intend to fight back as hard as we can."
Ms O'Neill said families deserve truth and justice.
“It has yet to be proven what the British Government’s intentions are in terms of the process but we will be there to do a job, to fight for truth and justice, to fight for accountability.”
Last week Stormont MLAs were recalled from their summer recess and backed a non-binding motion denouncing the Government proposals.