Northern Ireland

Irish government raises concerns about legacy legislation at Dublin meeting

At the British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference are (L-R) NIO Under Secretary Lord Caine; the Republic's Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris, Tánaiste Micheál Martin, Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris, UK Science Secretary Michelle Donelan and NIO Minister of State Steve Baker. Picture by Phil Behan / DFA
At the British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference are (L-R) NIO Under Secretary Lord Caine; the Republic's Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris, Tánaiste Micheál Martin, Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris, UK Science Secretary Miche At the British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference are (L-R) NIO Under Secretary Lord Caine; the Republic's Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris, Tánaiste Micheál Martin, Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris, UK Science Secretary Michelle Donelan and NIO Minister of State Steve Baker. Picture by Phil Behan / DFA

The Irish government has again stressed its concerns about the British government's controversial legacy legislation as ministers from both administrations met in Dublin on Tuesday.

The meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC) took place against the background of the continued suspension of the Stormont institutions, due to the DUP's 22-month boycott over elements of the EU-UK deal on post-Brexit trade.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton Harris, who was part of the British delegation, said negotiations with the DUP over the impasse were in their "final, final stages", but said he was "not going to set a timeline" on an agreement being reached.

The Irish government was represented by Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris, while their British counterparts included Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris, Science Minister Michelle Donelan, NIO Minister of State Steve Baker and Parliamentary Under Secretary Lord Caine.

In a joint communique released after the meeting, the governments said they were agreed on the "critical importance" of restoring the Stormont institutions.

They agreed that the restoration of devolution "on a sustainable basis" is essential for the people of Northern Ireland, who they said "deserve stable, locally-elected and accountable government". 

The communique said the Irish government "reiterated its serious concerns" about the British government legacy legislation, including its potential incompatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights, given the centrality of the convention to the Good Friday Agreement. 

The British said any interstate case brought by the Republic "would undermine" the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery's work.

The governments also discussed security co-operation and rights and citizenship matters, including the importance of the Common Travel Area and the potential implications of the British government’s Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme for visitors to the UK, including on the all-Ireland tourism sector. 

It was agreed that the conference would meet again in Spring 2024. 

Speaking after the conference, Mr Heaton Harris said of the negotiations with the DUP over Stormont: "We are in the final stages. I could go further and say we are in the final, final stages of this. We are really working hard to try and close this down.

"I believe there is an ever diminishing number of questions we have to answer from the DUP. I do see progress in this space.

"I am very keen when we get the Executive back that it is a sustainable Executive that lasts the course. I think that's imperative for all the people of Northern Ireland."

Referring to any deal with Jeffrey Donaldson, he added: "We are not at that point yet, we are still clarifying points."