Northern Ireland news

Former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald proposed holding cross-border courts for paramilitary trials during the Troubles

Former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald. Picture by Pacemaker

FORMER Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald proposed holding cross-border courts during the Troubles, according to the memoirs of an ex-British diplomat.

He suggested that the "mixed courts" could preside over paramilitary trials in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The idea was proposed during negotiations that led to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, according to a new book on the memoirs of diplomat Sir David Goodall, former deputy head of both the Foreign and Cabinet Offices.

The book, The Making of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 and edited by former Irish diplomat Frank Sheridan, reveals Dr FitzGerald approached Lord Lowry, then NI Lord Chief Justice, at a rugby international in Dublin and suggested his idea.

He proposed that judges from the Republic could be used alongside judges from the north in court cases.

Sir David said in his memoirs that Dr FitzGerald's proposal was one "confidence building measure" that the taoiseach was "personally attached to".

Paramilitary trials on both sides of the border are presided over without a jury, with one judge in Northern Ireland and a panel of three in the Republic.

"Although Lord Lowry must have known that the idea was in the air, he had apparently not realised that it was being seriously canvassed in the negotiations, Sir David wrote.

"Taken aback and indignant, he minuted to the Prime Minister that he was strongly opposed to it on both constitutional and practical grounds and would 'feel bound to resign' rather than participate in such courts.

"His opposition was endorsed by the Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham); and we were obliged to make it clear to the Irish that although the idea might be considered it was very unlikely to prove a runner."

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