By Dominic McGrath, PA
The Taoiseach has said that UK plans to address the legacy of the Troubles in amount to “get out of jail” legislation for ex-paramilitaries.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin was also critical of what he labelled a “unilateral strain” within the British government when it comes to the Good Friday Agreement.
Speaking in Belfast following talks with political parties in Northern Ireland, Mr Martin renewed his serious concerns about new legislation on legacy announced by the UK government.
The UK government has said that the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill aims to provide better outcomes for victims, survivors and veterans.
As part of the plan, immunity will be offered to those who are deemed to have co-operated with an information retrieval body.
The Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) will be headed by a judge.
The Bill would also stop future inquests and civil actions related to the Troubles, however, it does not fully close the door to criminal prosecutions.
The proposed legislation has been widely criticised by Northern Irish political parties, as well as victims’ campaigners and the Irish government.
Mr Martin said the plan needs “significant examination”.
“The full implications, I don’t believe, are fully understood by many involved. I think it has united the families of many victims of terrible atrocities against the measures of the British Government.
“It is a unilateral measure again. And I have concerns about the unilateral strain within the current British Government towards aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.
“I don’t think that’s positive and I don’t think it’s helpful in terms of the overall architecture of the Good Friday Agreement.”
Mr Martin said he was “very much opposed” to UK government proposals.
He said that the Bill creates “essentially the guts of an amnesty for people who committed terrible crimes, irrespective of whether they were security forces or members of various paramilitary groups who committed terrible crimes”.
“For many of those paramilitary groups, this is literally a get-out-of-jail legislation from any further investigation.”
Mr Martin indicated, also, that Irish concerns lay simply beyond the content of the Bill but also in the way the British government was approaching the issue.
He said that international rules and treaties are “not just unilaterally and arbitrarily discarded when it suits one party”.
“It’s about how you do business, respecting an established framework for doing business, that is really at the core of all of these issues.”
The chairman of an Oireachtas committee on the Good Friday Agreement earlier expressed his own “grave concerns” at the proposals.
Fergus O’Dowd, chairman of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, said: “While it will take some time to analyse the implications of the Bill in full, I would like to express my grave concern at the UK Government’s decision to act unilaterally on this highly sensitive issue.”
“The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement has met in recent months with a wide range of victims’ groups. We have heard, loud and clear, their urgent need for justice and accountability in addressing the legacy of the past.
“I call on the UK Government to work together with the Irish Government, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, to ensure that all efforts to address the legacy of the Troubles have the needs of victims and survivors at the centre.
“The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement stands ready to support efforts to reach consensus, to build trust and recommit to a spirit of reconciliation.
“The Committee will continue to assess the UK Government’s proposals and will respond further when our analysis is complete.”