Northern Ireland news

No immunity for Irish diplomats due to territorial claim

Declassified Northern Ireland Office files show that Irish officials working at the joint Anglo-Irish Secretariat did not have diplomatic immunity
Éamon Phoenix

IRISH officials working at the joint Anglo-Irish Secretariat at Maryfield, Co Down, did not have diplomatic immunity due to the Republic’s constitutional claim over the north.

Declassified files show that the issue of immunity was raised following a parliamentary question by the UK Unionist MP for North Down, Bob McCartney, in March 1997.

Mr McCartney asked foreign secretary Sir Malcom Rifkind whether Irish members of the Maryfield Secretariat and those involved in the Stormont talks had been granted diplomatic immunity and "what level of immunity of arrest and criminal charges this gave".

In a memo to the Northern Ireland Office, dated March 18 1997, the foreign office said the Republic’s officials in Northern Ireland lacked diplomatic immunity.

The memo said that the officials would be "precluded from seeking diplomatic status in Northern Ireland by their constitutional position which regards Northern Ireland as part of the national territory".

It added that the permanent Anglo-Irish Secretariat which was set up as part of the Inter-Governmental Conference machinery under the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 was "in part a way of overcoming this difficulty by creating Irish representation in the north".

"Its officials do not, therefore, have diplomatic status."

The Republic formally amended its constitution in 1999 to remove its territorial claim on the north.

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