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Statement to the Council of Europe on NI legacy issues

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney TD, has announced that today, 13 March, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers in Strasbourg will examine a number of cases related to dealing with the legacy of the Troubles, including the case of Pat Finucane.

 

The Government delieverd the following statement to the Committee of Ministers meeting today:

 

Ireland is deeply concerned that the legacy institutions of the Stormont House Agreement, agreed over four years ago, have still not been established.

 

The legacy institutions include the Historical Investigations Unit, an independent body in Northern Ireland tasked with investigating outstanding deaths connected to the Troubles.

 

Ireland fully agrees that the Committee should today underline to the UK that it is imperative that a way forward is found with the establishment of the HIU and the other legacy bodies, given the length of time that has passed.

 

It is unacceptable that many hundreds of families should have to experience any further delay before having access to a system that can effectively investigate the deaths of their family member, in compliance with Article 2 of the Convention. Families have been waiting now for at least two decades. This cannot continue.

 

Developments in recent weeks have underlined once again the incapacity of the current system to satisfactorily progress outstanding legacy investigations. On 14 February, it was announced that significant and sensitive information relating to legacy investigations of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland was discovered by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. This development will affect the progress of Police Ombudsman reports related to up to 30 deaths, including the Shanaghan case. It is welcome that an independent review is being conducted into methods used by the PSNI to disclose information to the Police Ombudsman. Ireland looks forward to the conclusion of that review and to an update by the UK to the Committee.

 

This development further underlines the urgent need for the HIU, not only to have a positive impact in dealing with the past, but also to relieve pressure on present day policing in Northern Ireland and on the Office of the Police Ombudsman.

 

The UK government’s public consultation on draft legislation to establish the Historical Investigations Unit and other Stormont House legacy bodies ran from May to October last year.

 

 

The Irish Government participated by invitation in many civil society engagements that were held in Northern Ireland during the consultation period, and also facilitated consultation engagements for victims and survivors resident in the South, who are equally concerned to see the comprehensive legacy framework of the Stormont House Agreement in place, important elements of which will operate on an all-island basis.

 

The strong interest from victims and survivors in engaging with the consultation process was very positive and a signal of the undiminishing demand for an effective system that can meet their legitimate needs and expectations.

 

Ireland therefore fully supports the strong encouragement of the Committee today to the UK Government to act on its commitment to present the necessary legislation to parliament, and to provide a timetable for the way forward.

 

Action and a move ahead to legislation is now urgently required by the UK government.

 

Ireland will have our part to play in the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement. The Irish Government reaffirms its commitment to working with the UK government to definitively move forward to a legislative phase to establish the Stormont House legacy bodies and get them delivering at last for victims and survivors in a way that will fully meet their Convention rights.

 

There has been progress in some areas, which is important to acknowledge.

 

Ireland fully supports the Committee in noting with satisfaction the announcement by the Northern Ireland Department of Justice on 28 February that funding has been agreed to progress the hearing of 52 outstanding legacy inquests relating to 93 deaths, including the McKerr and Kelly and others cases, and in accordance with the 2016 proposals of the Lord Chief Justice for Northern Ireland. This follows on from a ruling of the High Court of Northern Ireland in the Hughes case in March 2018, which underlined the obligation to ensure that legacy inquests comply with Article 2. Ireland looks forward to the prompt implementation of the Lord Chief Justice’s proposals and the cooperation of all relevant authorities.

 

In the context of wider political discourse on legacy issues, the Irish Government has been clear, and affirms again today, that there is no provision for a statute of limitation or any other form of amnesties from prosecution provided for in the Good Friday Agreement or any subsequent agreement, including the Stormont House Agreement. The Irish Government has been clear that it would not support any proposal to introduce such a measure for state or non-state actors.

 

The Irish Government reiterated this to the UK government at high political level again last week, in response to acute concern and confusion among victims and survivors in Northern Ireland regarding UK government statements that measures will be announced in relation to the investigation of the actions of service personnel in historical operations.

 

This includes the families of the 14 innocent civilians killed by the British Army on Bloody Sunday in 1972 who are waiting to hear from the Public Prosecution Service this week whether prosecutions will follow on from a PSNI murder investigation.

The Bloody Sunday families, and the families of other victims, have campaigned for truth and justice for decades and are not served by the unclear signals from the UK government about their intentions. Where crimes are committed, they must be investigated and prosecuted as necessary in accordance with the law, and regardless of the perpetrator. The Irish Government wants to see clarity brought by the UK government to this as a matter of urgency.

 

Article 2 of the Convention requires an effective investigation into a death and this must be upheld in all cases. There should be effective investigations into all deaths during the Troubles, regardless of the perpetrator. That is what the Stormont House Agreement provides for and that is what must be legislated for and implemented without qualification or favour.

 

Individual measures (Finucane case)

Turning to the case of the late Pat Finucane, Ireland continues to support the reopening of individual measures in the Finucane case, and therefore the request made by the applicant.

 

Ireland believes that had the Committee of Ministers been aware in 2009 of the existence of new and significant information relating to the murder which came to light following the 2012 de Silva review that the Committee may not have agreed to the closure of individual measures.

 

This belief is strongly reinforced by the important judgment of the UK Supreme Court on 27 February last, in the domestic proceedings taken by the applicant, Mrs Geraldine Finucane.

 

The UK Supreme Court made a Declaration in favour of the applicant that there has not been an Article 2 compliant inquiry into the death of Patrick Finucane. It is important to note that the European Court of Human Rights made the same finding in 2003.

 

While the UK government has made efforts in the intervening years, the UK Supreme Court set out clearly the absence of specific vital steps that could have been taken, that mean they all fell short of delivering an Article 2 compliant investigation in this case.

 

The UK Supreme Court also found that as a result of the de Silva review in 2012, “many important questions remain unanswered” and this represents a “significant change in circumstances” from when the Committee closed supervision on the case in 2009. The UK Supreme Court concluded: “There is no warrant for concluding that the Committee, if faced with those change of circumstances today, would reach the same conclusion.”

 

Consistent with this finding, and the Declaration of the UK Supreme Court that there has not been an Article 2 compliant investigation, the Irish Government today reaffirms its support for a reopening of individual measures by the Committee in the Finucane case.

 

The Committee decided in December 2015 to resume consideration of this issue when the domestic proceedings have concluded. That is now the case, and Ireland looks forward to the UK authorities providing information to the Committee by 21 June and to an active consideration by the Committee of this matter no later than the CMDH Session in September.

 

Ireland would reiterate to the Committee of Ministers that it remains our firm view that a satisfactory outcome to the Finucane case can only be achieved through a public inquiry, and we call again on the UK government to fulfil the commitment it made in this respect under the Weston Park Agreement of 2001.”

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