Tánaiste Micheál Martin welcomes Council of Europe decision on NI Legacy issues
Press release10 March 2023
The Tánaiste and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin TD, today welcomed the decision adopted by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in Strasbourg which emphasised again that it is crucial that the UK’s Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, if progressed and adopted, is in full compliance with the European Convention and will enable effective investigations into all outstanding cases.
The Committee’s decision also referred to the recent High Court decision on Finucane, which declared that there has still not been an Article 2 compliant inquiry into Mr. Finucane’s death. The Committee “exhorted the authorities to provide their full and clear response to the Supreme Court judgement as soon as possible."
The statement made by Ireland’s Ambassador at the Committee of Ministers meeting is set out in full below.
“Since the publication of the UK’s Legacy Bill, this Committee has, on three occasions, expressed its serious concerns about the Bill and its compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Since we last met –
The Bill has continued its progress without sufficient or significant amendment. This is a matter of profound concern for my Government.
The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, has issued her report (on her visit to the UK). My delegation would like to thank the Commissioner for her engagement. I recall her conclusions that the UK’s approach in the Bill raises serious concerns about its compliance with international human rights standards, including with the ECHR and her call on the UK Government to consider withdrawing the Bill (and to return to the principals of the Stormont House Agreement).
In addition, we have heard the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights express his concerns with the Bill in particular the immunity scheme and likewise, calling on the UK to reconsider its approach.
My government is aware of the recent amendments introduced by the UK. However, as stated clearly in the draft decision to be adopted by this Committee, ‘those amendments do not sufficiently allay the concerns about the Bill’ set out in previous decisions adopted by this Committee.
These amendments simply do not go far enough. They do not address our fundamental concerns around immunity, effective investigations, independence and overall compliance with ECHR. As currently drafted, the UK is seeking to introduce an amnesty for crimes amounting to gross human rights violations. (The Bill as it stands is not fit for purpose).
As the Bill continues to progress the anxiety of victims and communities in Northern Ireland increases. Every family deserves an effective investigation and access to justice for their loved one. The prospect of the closure, by and large, of existing avenues for seeking truth and justice, as the Commissioner for Human Rights states ‘would amount to the UK Government, which is itself a party in some of these proceedings, unilaterally shutting down options that victims and families highly value and which, in some cases, are finally producing results after many years of delays’.
Furthermore, as underlined by the High Court of Northern Ireland in its most recent judgement last December, there still has not been an Article 2 complaint inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane in 1989. A death which occurred over 30 years ago. It has been the consistent and firmly held position of the Irish Government that a full and independent public inquiry, as provided for under the Weston Park agreement (in 2001), is the right way forward on this case, and the best way for the UK Government to uphold its Article 2 obligations. The Irish government again calls on the UK Government to take this step.
It is important to recall that the Legacy Bill does not have the support of any political party in Northern Ireland, nor that of victims’ groups or communities. Enactment in its current form, risks severely damaging trust in the rule of law and the justice system in Northern Ireland and setting back reconciliation efforts.
We welcome today’s decision (- the serious concern it reiterates about compatibility with the Convention despite amendments, the continued commitment to follow developments and in the absence of tangible progress to sufficiently allay the concerns about the Bill to instruct the preparation of an interim resolution for consideration.)
Time is running out. We continue to urge the UK to reconsider its approach, (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 including this Committee.)
We thank member states for their continued engagement, we regret that the engagement of this Committee remains necessary, but we believe it to be both timely and essential.”
10 March 2023
Notes for Editors
- In this decision, the Committee recalled their concern as to what is a fundamental change of approach from the Stormont House Agreement, December 2014.
- The Committee expressed serious concern that the amendments proposed by the British Government do not sufficiently allay the concerns about the Bill set out in the decisions adopted at the 1443rd meeting (DH) (September 2022) and 1451st meeting (DH) (December 2022) and emphasised 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.