Minister Coveney welcomes Council of Europe decision on NI legacy issues
Press release09 December 2022
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney TD, has welcomed the decision adopted 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, 6 December is set out in full below.
“Today’s discussion is an important and timely opportunity to consider progress towards effective remedy in this longstanding issue, including how the proposed UK Legacy Bill would complicate progress towards closing this group of cases.
In September this Committee set out serious concerns about compatibility of the proposed UK legislation with the European Convention and strongly reiterated calls on the authorities to ‘take all necessary measures’ and ‘devote sufficient time before pursuing progression and adoption of this Bill’.
In our national statement in September, we made clear that the UK Legacy Bill was a matter of significant concern to the Irish Government.
Since our September session, the UK Legacy Bill has had its second reading in the House of Lords (on November 23) and is currently scheduled to go to Committee Stage in the near future. The UK Government has given no indication that it intends to withdraw the Bill. While the UK Government has indicated an openness to certain amendments, it has not agreed to amendments that would address the serious concerns expressed by this Committee, including its compatibility with the Convention in such areas as effective investigation and immunity.
If the UK Legacy Bill enters into force, its impact will be immediate and enormous - for victims, their families and communities in Northern Ireland. It is important to recall that the proposed approach does not have the support of any political party in Northern Ireland, nor that of victims’ groups or communities.
There have been a number of significant developments since the last meeting of the CMDH.
On 25 November the Belfast Crown Court found a former British soldier guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence when he shot Aidan McAnespie 34 years ago. The verdict in this case makes clear - prosecutions remain possible, even after a lengthy period. All victims deserve, and are entitled to, Article 2 compliant investigations. These paths must remain open to victims, survivors and their families.
The UK’s own Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights (26 October) has urged the Government to reconsider its approach and put forward a Convention-compliant solution.
The potential impact which enactment of the proposed UK legacy Bill would have on the fragile process of private and societal reconciliation in Northern Ireland has been highlighted in a powerful intervention by the Catholic and Anglican Archbishops.
The leaders, responsible for the two largest faith communities in Northern Ireland expressed the view in a letter to the Financial Times on 21 November that the UK Legacy Bill would deepen divisions. They said that the Bill ‘seems almost as though it has been designed to fail’. These are sobering words from those who know the fabric of their communities better than most.
The European Convention on Human Rights has played and continues to play a vital role for all of the people of Northern Ireland in securing their rights and creating confidence and trust in the rule of law and systems of justice. That confidence and trust has been fundamental to building lasting peace and deeper societal reconciliation. The UK is now seeking to introduce an amnesty for crimes amounting to gross human rights violations, which appears clearly to be contrary to the Convention.
The enactment of the proposed UK Legacy Bill would severely damage trust in the rule of law and the justice system in Northern Ireland. It could also complicate the investigation of conflict related killings within Irish jurisdiction with a cross border dimension.
We believe it is absolutely necessary and appropriate that the Committee of Ministers should record its very deep concern with this proposed legislation before it’s too late.
We continue to engage constructively with the UK Government advocating strongly for a partnership approach which includes victims, is human rights compliant, and promotes reconciliation. An approach which would enable effective remedy in the longstanding McKerr group of case and contribute to reconciliation in a post-conflict society.
We once again urge the UK to revisit its policy, taking into account the clear concerns voiced not only by the Irish Government, but by victims, survivors and their families, Northern Ireland political parties, a UK Parliamentary Committee and growing numbers of international stakeholders.
We thank member states for their continued engagement, we regret that the intervention of this Committee remains necessary, but we believe it to be both timely and essential.”
9 December 2022
Notes to Editor
• In this decision, the Committee recalled the concern previously expressed as to what is a fundamental change of approach from the Stormont House Agreement, December 2014.
• The Committee expressed growing concern that the Bill has been progressed without being formally paused and that the United Kingdom authorities have not yet brought forward amendments to it in Parliament that would sufficiently allay the concerns about the Bill set out in the decision adopted in September 2022 and emphasising again that it is crucial that the legislation, if progressed and ultimately adopted, is in full compliance with the European Convention and will enable effective investigations into all outstanding cases.
• The Committee strongly reiterated their calls upon the authorities to reconsider the conditional immunity scheme in light of concerns expressed around its compatibility with the European Convention.