Northern Ireland news

Watch: Simon Coveney calls for 'all-Ireland approach' to legacy as he brands British government bill 'unacceptable'

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Picture by Mal McCann
John Manley

SIMON Coveney has branded the British government's legacy legislation "unacceptable" and said Dublin wants an "all-Ireland approach" to dealing with the past.

In what is likely to be one of his final interviews as foreign affairs minister, the Fine Gael deputy leader told The Irish News that the Irish government cannot support the controversial Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which he argued was inconsistent with the UK's obligations under international humanitarian law.

Mr Coveney has previously voiced misgivings about the British government's legacy bill but the latest criticism is by far his bluntest yet.

Fresh from meeting Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris in Belfast yesterday, he said the legislation currently making its way through Westminster effectively amounts to an amnesty.

"I believe that what's being proposed at the moment, in the legislation as it's currently drafted, is effectively to introduce an amnesty, with a very low threshold that one would have to reach in order to get that amnesty – and I believe that that is on lots of levels, an unacceptable approach," he said.

Simon Coveney: Victims and their families have rights. Video by Mal McCann

 

The minister said the bill was legally unsound and that questions about its compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights had been raised by church leaders, Westminster's Joint Committee on Human Rights, and Amnesty International.

"So legally, politically, but also morally, this is something that I believe will be seen as protecting the perpetrator of violence rather than the victim – and that is something that we just simply cannot support," he said

The former tánaiste said the Republic's government would like to have an "all-Ireland approach, that could deal with cross-border cases".

"So that I could say honestly to the Kingsmill families and others who believe that their loved ones were murdered by gangs that came across the border, that we could actually have have an approach that could ensure that we do everything we can to provide truth and justice in those cases," he said.

 

Simon Coveney: These are life changing traumas that we have to try to address. Video by Mal McCann

 

"But the approach that the British government is currently taking means that we cannot do that, because we cannot do south of the border what they're proposing to do north of the border, which is which is effectively to put in place the facilitation of an amnesty, which makes it impossible for a court and a judge to determine whether or not a murder took place."

A spokesperson for the British government insisted the legislation would "not introduce an amnesty, and will not remove the prospect of criminal prosecutions".

The spokesperson said "conditional immunity" would only be granted to those who cooperate fully and truthfully with the Independent Commission for Reconciliation & Information Recovery (ICRIR).

"Individuals who do not will remain liable to prosecution and will be referred to prosecutors should sufficient evidence exist," the spokesperson said.