Decision by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on legacy of Troubles
Statement06 December 2021
A decision was adopted on 3 December by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in Strasbourg in relation to the legacy of the Troubles and the McKerr group of cases.
Ireland shares the profound regret expressed by the Committee that no concrete progress is being made in putting into place a comprehensive framework to address the legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland that meets the needs of victims and survivors, and is fully compliant with the requirements of Article 2 of the Convention.
It is indeed deeply regrettable that families, including those in the McKerr group of cases, have had to continue to wait for a satisfactory response to their appeals for truth and justice for their loved ones.
It has of course been the consistent position of the Irish Government that the Stormont House Agreement is the way forward on this issue. It was reached by both the Irish and British Governments, together with the majority of parties in Northern Ireland. It provides for independent criminal investigations, for truth recovery, and for the sharing of experience through oral history.
In July, the UK Government put forward proposals for a general Statute of Limitations that would see an end to criminal investigations and prosecutions in relation to killings and attacks committed during the conflict in Northern Ireland, and a bar on all related coronial inquests and civil cases.
This would be a very radical departure from what was agreed at Stormont House, and an approach without modern international precedent. It has understandably caused shock and upset across communities in Northern Ireland, and has been rejected by every political party on the island.
We share the deep concerns expressed by the Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, who has been clear that the proposals appear indistinguishable from a broad-based and unconditional amnesty for those not yet convicted. We share her analysis that “this proposed amnesty… which creates impunity, is being justified on problematic assumptions, and fails to meet victims’ needs, would be incompatible with the United Kingdom’s international obligations.”
Since June of this year, we have been engaged in good faith in talks with the UK Government and the parties in Northern Ireland to find an agreed way forward on these issues.
We take this opportunity to emphasise that unilateral action on the basis of the proposals set out by the UK government cannot form the basis of progress on these deeply important issues, and we urge a recommitment to efforts to find a collective way forward with the needs of victims and survivors at its heart, and consistent with the obligations of the Convention.
Turning to individual measures, these are of course affected by the current context of uncertainty created by the publication of these proposals to introduce a bar on future criminal investigations, inquests and civil litigation.
With respect to the case of Pat Finucane, the Committee will recall it has been the longstanding position of the Irish Government that a full and independent public inquiry is the right way forward on this case, and the best way for the UK Government to uphold its Article 2 obligations. In 2019, the UK Supreme Court found that there had not been an investigation into the murder of Pat Finucane that was compliant with Article 2 of the Convention.
In December 2020, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced that he had decided against the holding of a public inquiry into the case at this time.
The Irish Government expressed its profound disappointment in response to this decision and, at our last meeting, we welcomed the Committee’s decision to take the necessary step of re-opening supervision of individual measures in this case.
The Finucane family have initiated a judicial review of the decision not to hold a public inquiry. We are concerned by the delays in the holding of a hearing on this case, and welcome the statement of the Committee on the matter today. We continue to press for the UK to present clearly how it intends to meet its obligations under Article 2 of the Convention with respect to this case. It remains our position that a full, independent, public inquiry remains the best way to do so.