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Legacy issues, inquests and the Pat Finucane case discussed today at the Council of Europe

Minister Charles Flanagan, Press Releases, Europe, 2016


Legacy issues, including legacy bodies, inquests and the Pat Finucane case discussed today at the Council of Europe

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charles Flanagan TD, has announced that today, 7 December, the Council of Europe in Strasbourg discussed a number of legacy cases, including the case of Pat Finucane.

The statement made on behalf of Ireland is set out below.

“More than a year has now passed since the signing of the Fresh Start Agreement, reached after 10 weeks of intensive cross-party negotiations. It is deeply regrettable that in the time since there has been little visible progress with establishing the legacy institutions provided for under the 2014 Stormont House Agreement. The Irish Government shares the deep disappointment and frustration of victims and survivors of the Troubles, from all communities, who have had to wait for far too long for access to truth and justice.

“The legacy institutions agreed at Stormont House include the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), an independent body tasked with investigating outstanding criminal cases connected to the Troubles. The Committee of Ministers has in successive decisions urged the establishment of the HIU so that effective investigations in these cases can be held. The issue of how to balance of the needs of families to access information uncovered by the Unit’s investigations with the national security considerations sought by the British Government remains outstanding. The Irish Government strongly urges the British Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and all interested parties, to approach this issue with the necessary resolve, leadership and compromise in the period immediately ahead, so that the process can move ahead, the necessary legislation introduced and enacted and the HIU and other legacy bodies finally established.

“A further issue of acute concern for the Irish Government is the continuing failure to properly resource legacy inquests so that they can be concluded in a reasonable period of time. Legacy inquests are addressed in the Stormont House Agreement but are institutionally distinct. These inquests – which already exist but are poorly resourced - offer a critical avenue through which families may seek to finally establish the record of the deaths of their loved ones, most of whom have had to bear their loss for decades now without answers. For example, last week, the head of the Coroner’s Service in Northern Ireland told the families of 10 people shot dead by security forces in 1971 at Ballymurphy in Belfast, that he would not set a date for their inquests because funding could not be guaranteed into the New Year. Having been let down so many times, families such as these continue to wait with ebbing hope.

“In February, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland proposed the establishment of a Legacy Inquest Unit that could deal with 56 outstanding legacy inquests in a period of five years, and his proposals have secured considerable support. The Irish Government fully supports the Committee of Ministers in strongly urging the relevant authorities – the British Government and the Northern Ireland Executive – to take as a matter of urgency, all necessary measures to enable the legacy inquest system to conclude effective investigations, which would meet the Article 2 obligations on the British Government under the Convention. The Irish Government remains strongly committed to continuing to work with the British Government and the political parties in Northern Ireland, to seek and support definitive progress on these critical issues. We remain convinced that the institutional framework agreed of the Stormont House Agreement offers the best way of bringing whatever healing is possible to those bereaved and afflicted by the Troubles. Earlier this year the Government engaged a wide range of victims and survivors groups in order to widen our own understanding of the challenges faced by those directly impacted. This has further strengthened our resolve to see this architecture put in place. While we acknowledge the continuing engagement by the UK authorities to seek a way forward on the legacy bodies and with legacy inquests, this work will require intensive political engagement, commitment and a spirit of compromise, if victims and survivors are not to be let down once again.

“The Irish Government will not be found wanting in this regard, and calls on the British Government, and the political leaders and parties in Northern Ireland, to renew and redouble their efforts in the period ahead. The few but significant outstanding issues must be resolved, so that the Stormont House institutional framework on the past can be agreed and legislated for as required, in the UK and Ireland. We deeply regret that the draft decision proposed today could not be one that welcomed the introduction of legislation to establish the HIU and the other legacy bodies, or one that acknowledged the provision of the necessary resources for effective legacy inquests. We feel it is therefore necessary and appropriate that the Committee of Ministers should strongly encourage the UK to do all it can to make progress in these matters, in recognition of its obligations under the Convention and the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in the McKerr group of cases.

“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. It is our belief that had the Committee of Ministers been aware in 2009 of the existence of the new and significant information relating to the murder which came to light following the de Silva review ordered by the British Government, it may not have agreed to the closure of individual measures. This belief is reinforced by the Declaration last year of the Belfast High Court that as of March 2009, the date of the Committee’s Interim Decision, there had been no effective investigation in compliance with Article 2.

“This is a critical moment in the Pat Finucane case; a judgment in the domestic litigation is pending and expected soon. In this context, Ireland is therefore prepared to agree to the proposed decision, on the basis that the Committee of Ministers will fulfil its obligation under Article 46(2) to supervise judgments of the Court by resuming consideration of reopening the individual measures once this judgment has been delivered. We consider this the only logical and satisfactory action for the Committee to pursue.

“Moreover, I wish to reiterate to the Committee of Ministers that it is the firm view of the Irish Government that a satisfactory outcome to this case will be best achieved through a full public inquiry, and we again call upon the British Government to fulfil the commitments it made in this regard at Weston Park fifteen years ago.”

Press Office
07 December 2016