By Dominic McGrath, PA
The Minister for Foreign Affairs has flagged “serious concerns” over UK government legislation addressing the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill will see immunity from prosecution for Troubles-era crimes offered to those who are deemed to have co-operated with an information retrieval body.
It will also close down future inquests and investigations, with a new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) put in place.
Those deemed to have co-operated with the commission will be offered immunity from prosecution.
The plans have been consistently opposed by political parties in Northern Ireland, as well as victims’ campaigners and the Irish Government.
Simon Coveney called the unilateral move “disappointing” and said the Irish Government had “serious concerns” about provisions in the Bill.
“We know, from long experience, that lasting progress is best achieved through finding an agreed way forward based on engagement and sufficient consensus.
“We already had the basis for that in the Stormont House Agreement.”
On Wednesday morning, Northern Ireland’s commissioner for victims and survivors, Ian Jeffers, said it was a “very bitter pill to swallow” for victims.
“We had strongly urged the British government to come back to the table and find a way forward together, and it is regrettable that they have not done so. We remain open to that,” Mr Coveney said.
He said the Irish Government would be speaking to political parties and victims about the proposed legislation.
“We will also have detailed questions to raise with the UK government to better understand the intent behind the Bill’s provisions.
“However, on an initial reading we have serious concerns which include, but are not limited to, the powers of the Commission and Chief Commissioner, the status of the ‘reviews’ proposed in the Bill, and of course, fundamentally, compliance with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and other international human rights obligations.”
He said that he knew many families would be “upset” by the Bill.
“There will be many that understandably feel that immunity, conditional or otherwise, may be more about protecting perpetrators instead of pursuing justice and getting to the truth in such cases. It is vital that those concerns are heard and fully understood.
“It is also vital that the process for dealing with the legacy build, rather than erode, trust and confidence.
“Ultimately, genuine reconciliation can only be achieved through such trust and confidence.”
Mr Coveney promised to “continue to engage with the UK government” to “better understand the provisions of this bill and the policy intent”.