Tuesday. 21 October 2014

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Commentary: it is time for Libya to pay for IRA attacks

Lord Empey welcomes Exaro’s disclosure of meeting this week aimed at striking deal

I see no reason why the new government, in the form of the National Transitional Council, should not take on responsibility for its predecessor

Libya’s ruling regime of Muammar Gaddafi was the principal supplier of weapons and explosives to the IRA during the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland.

In the 1980’s, at least four boatloads of arms were shipped to Ireland. What was believed to be the last one was intercepted, and a huge quantity of arms – including two tonnes of Semtex – seized. The supply of Semtex was one of the most effective items in the IRA armoury, and was responsible for the deaths of many members of the police, army and civilians, to say nothing about the massive bomb damage inflicted on British cities.

I believe that Gaddafi’s decision to supply and, indeed, help train IRA terrorists, prolonged the terrorist campaign by nearly ten years.

His decision was, of course, revenge for the help of the UK’s then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, to US president Ronald Reagan, in 1986, when American aircraft used British airbases for a bombing raid on Tripoli.

Gaddafi made much of this attack on Libya’s capital, and, indeed, used a bombed-out military base as a centrepiece of his so-called ‘resistance’. Even in recent months, Gaddafi liked to be pictured in front of this compound, which he never repaired. It was the location for his famous sculpture of an American aircraft caught in the hand of ‘Libyan defiance’.

Earlier this month in the House of Lords, I asked the government about progress on compensation for victims of weapons supplied by Libya to the Provisional IRA. I feel so strongly that many thousands of people in the UK are still suffering today as a result of the supply of this material to terrorists by the Libyan regime.

The Real IRA, a splinter group from the Provisional IRA, used explosives from the same arms cache for the Omagh bombing in 1998.

Last week, Exaro revealed that the Foreign Office had convened a meeting this Wednesday between UK and Libyan government officials aimed at reaching a deal over compensation for victims of the IRA terror campaign, which used Libyan-supplied arms. Groups representing victims, some of whom are also due be at the meeting, are hoping to secure a compensation package of $2 billion.

Talks were at an advanced stage before the collapse of the Gaddafi government, involving his son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, when the regime was seriously considering some form of compensation. Delegations had been out to Libya, and the Foreign Office had established a unit specifically to help potential claimants and their legal representatives. I suppose, in his own twisted way, Gaddafi was using this as part of his international rehabilitation.

Given the establishment of a new government in Tripoli, especially one that owes so much to the UK coalition government in general and the prime minister, David Cameron, in particular, I feel that now is the time to press our case home to a successful conclusion.

I have been writing to government since 2003 about this issue. As a representative of Northern Ireland, I see the results of this weaponry. I have been to some of the funerals, and seen many of the injured and maimed. It is not simply the victim, but the victims’ families that face a lifetime of anguish.

Libya is potentially a wealthy nation, and I see no reason why the new government, in the form of the National Transitional Council, should not take on responsibility for its predecessor. After World War II, both Germany and Japan paid compensation. Indeed, some of those claims are still being made.

What Gaddafi did was tantamount to an act of war against the United Kingdom, and I think that it is about time the government stood up for its own people. After all, those who still support IRA terrorists are pursuing inquiries and compensation for former IRA members, so why does our government not do the same for all these victims?

Sir Reg Empey was raised to the peerage as Baron Empey of Shandon in the City and County of Belfast in January this year. He was interim first minister of Northern Ireland briefly in 2001, and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party for five years from 2005, succeeding David Trimble. Although still a member of the UUP, he takes the Conservative whip in the UK Parliament.

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