Northern Ireland

Head of new legacy post in Northern Ireland must be a British citizen

Under the proposed legislation, which has been dubbed the ‘Bill of Shame' by some opponents, only inquests which have reached substantive hearing stage a year after the bill will be allowed while civil cases have been stopped.  (Liam McBurney/PA)
Under the proposed legislation, which has been dubbed the ‘Bill of Shame' by some opponents, only inquests which have reached substantive hearing stage a year after the bill will be allowed while civil cases have been stopped. (Liam McBurney/PA) Under the proposed legislation, which has been dubbed the ‘Bill of Shame' by some opponents, only inquests which have reached substantive hearing stage a year after the bill will be allowed while civil cases have been stopped. (Liam McBurney/PA)

The British government has been accused "backsliding" on the Good Friday Agreement after it emerged that the head of a new legacy investigation unit must be a British citizen.

Recruitment to the post of Commissioner for Investigations at the proposed Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) is already under way before controversial British government legacy plans have become law.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill is currently making its way through Westminster and is expected to become law in the summer.

Under the proposed legislation, which has been dubbed the ‘Bill of Shame' by some opponents, only inquests which have reached substantive hearing stage a year after the bill will be allowed while civil cases have been stopped.

Immunity from prosecution will also be offered in some circumstances.

Community, political and religious leaders have all voiced concerns about the blueprint.

The ICRIR is expected to be set up under the new legislation with the Commissioner for Investigations one of several commissioners who will form the body’s board.

The post holder will work with the Chief Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer in "designing and leading the new organisation".

With a salary between £140,000 - 149,000, the successful candidate will be based between Belfast and London.

The closing date for applications is May 18 - weeks before the contentious legacy bill is expected to be passed.

Applicants must be British citizens or hold dual British nationality, meaning potential candidates from the south of Ireland will not be eligible.

Under the Good Friday Agreement people who live in the north can identify as either Irish, British or both.

Daniel Holder, director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, said the Good Friday Agreement “includes birthrights not just to identify as but also to ‘be accepted as’ Irish, British or both.

“The GFA also provides for equality of treatment for British and Irish citizens,” he said.

“The current recruitment would exclude persons born in the south, and northerners who wish to exercise their GFA rights to be accepted as Irish only would have to rely on being conferred with British citizenship to apply.”

Mr Holder said the British government has already "torn up" the 2014 Stormont House Agreement and walked away "from the pattern of international involvement in many peace process mechanisms".

"The current recruitment being restricted to British citizens only constitutes further backsliding on the GFA,” he said.

He added that the legacy plans will face resistance.

"The bill is not law yet, it is almost universally opposed, will face legal challenge and few people are likely to engage with the new legacy body if it is set up, yet it's full steam ahead from the NIO (Northern Ireland office).

Labour leader Keir Starmer, who is the bookies' favourite to be the next British Prime Minister, has said he would repeal the bill.

“It could take up to a year to get the new legacy body fully up and running," Mr Holder said.

"A Westminster election looms in 2024 and Kier Starmer has committed to repealing this shocking legislation.

"This may in part explain the rush to recruit before the bill is even got through Westminster.”

A spokesman for the NIO said: "It is important to begin the process of appointing a Commissioner for Investigations in order to help victims, survivors and their families get the answers they need with minimal delay.



"The role will be subject to a fair and open competition and, in keeping with the provisions of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, is open to anyone who is a UK national or entitled to British citizenship."

Meanwhile, details have emerged about the role of commissioners to the ICRIR board. 

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson Mark Thompson

Mark Thompson from Reltives for Justice last night urged the Irish government to take legal action.

“The British Government is pressing ahead with recruitment to posts enabling the ‘Bill of Shame’,” he said.

“No one worth their salt or interested in their own credibility would apply to these posts.

“Irish citizens harmed by conflict deserve and need the Irish Government to intervene and initiate an intergovernmental case.”

The Taoiseach’s office was contacted.