Minister Coveney welcomes Council of Europe decision on NI legacy issues
Press release04 September 2020
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney TD, has welcomed the decision issued today by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in Strasbourg in relation to a number of Northern Ireland legacy cases, including the case of Pat Finucane.
The statement made on behalf of Ireland to the Committee of Ministers meeting on Tuesday, 1 September is set out in full below.
“It is a matter of significant and increasing concern to the Irish Government that the legislation to implement the Stormont House Agreement framework has not been progressed by the UK Government.
It is also a matter of regret and concern to us that, in its submission for this meeting, the UK Government appears to cast further doubt on the nature of its commitment - reaffirmed at the time of the New Decade New Approach agreement in January - to bring forward that legislation as a matter of urgency.
The position of the Irish Government is clear. The Stormont House Agreement framework is the way forward on these issues. It was agreed by both Governments and the political parties after intensive negotiations, and it must be implemented.
Where the UK Government are proposing significant changes to that framework, these must be discussed and agreed by both Governments and the parties to the Northern Ireland Executive.
Of course, we recognise the impact of the Covid 19 Pandemic on the scope for the necessary engagement around these issues, but it is clear from the UK submission that that is not the only factor in the delay to delivering on that commitment.
The rule of law and the protections afforded by the European Convention on Human Rights must apply equally to everyone and must be upheld, and this principle is at the core of the Good Friday Agreement and of the Stormont House framework.
Victims and survivors have had to wait for far too long for a suitable and effective system in Northern Ireland to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.
We therefore believe it is necessary and appropriate that the Committee of Ministers should put on record its deep concern about the lack of progress in putting in place the urgently needed mechanism for conducting Article-2 compliant investigations in over 1,000 outstanding cases in Northern Ireland.
Turning to the case of the late Pat Finucane, Ireland continues to support the reopening of individual measures in the Finucane case.
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.
As we have previously made clear, this belief is strongly reinforced by the important judgment of the UK Supreme Court on 27 February 2019, in the domestic proceedings taken by the applicant, Mrs Geraldine Finucane.
The UK Supreme Court identified the specific Article 2 shortcomings in the 2012 de Silva review, namely that that that it did not have the power to compel the attendance of witnesses; those who met the reviewer were not subject to testing as to the veracity and accuracy of their evidence; and, a potentially critical witness was excused attendance.
The UK Supreme Court also found that as a result of the de Silva review in 2012, “many important questions remain unanswered” and that this represents a “significant change in circumstances” from when the Committee of Ministers 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.”
Since that judgement, this Committee has twice asked the UK government to submit concrete information on how they intend to conduct an Article 2-compliant investigation into Mr Finucane’s death.
To date, 18 months later, the UK Government has still not complied with the commitments it gave the Committee, and the applicant, Mrs Geraldine Finucane.
This is profoundly concerning.
In the absence of such information being provided, and in the absence of demonstrable progress in legislating to implement the Stormont House Agreement framework, we believe it is essential that the Committee resume its examination of these cases in December and ask the Secretariat to prepare a draft interim resolution for consideration at that meeting.
Ireland strongly urges the UK to engage with the applicant in the period immediately ahead.
For many in Northern Ireland, the Finucane case is being watched as a measure of the power of the Convention, and effectiveness of the Court. It should again be recalled – so shortly after our sad loss of John Hume, to whom all of us on the island of Ireland owe such a debt - that the incorporation of the Convention into Northern Irish law was an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement which paved the way for peace in Northern Ireland.
Ireland’s firm view remains that a satisfactory outcome to the Finucane case can only be achieved through a public inquiry, as was provided for under the Weston Park Agreement reached by the UK and Irish Governments in 2001.”
- In the decision, the Committee expressed their deep concern that a decision has still not been made by UK authorities on how to respond to the 2019 UK Supreme Court judgment with respect to the case of Pat Finucane, and underlined that it is urgent that the authorities take such a decision without further delay. The Committee also expressed concern about the lack of detail on the UK Government’s approach on legacy, as set out in its 18 March Ministerial Statement, and how the current proposals would work in practice and in compliance with the UK’s obligation under Article 2 of the Convention.
- The Committee resolved to examine these cases again in December 2020 and in the absence of the submission by the UK Government of concrete information on these issues by 22 October 2020, instructed the Secretariat to prepare a draft interim resolution for consideration at that meeting. An interim resolution may be adopted in place of a decision if the Committee of Ministers wishes to express particular concern regarding the progress of the execution of a judgment.