Seanad debates

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Northern Ireland

2:30 pm

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I would like to start by thanking the Senator for raising this most important matter. I wish to pass on the apologies of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who is out of the country at present and unfortunately unable to attend this debate.

As the Senator has outlined, the legacy of the Troubles continues to impact upon many families and communities across the island and beyond as they continue to seek truth and justice for their loved ones. It has been the consistent position of the Government that each of those families should have access to an effective investigation and to a process of justice, regardless of the perpetrator. The Stormont House Agreement, agreed by both Governments and the political parties of Northern Ireland after intensive negotiations in 2014, sets out a comprehensive and balanced framework based on the essential pillars of truth, justice and reconciliation. Where the British Government is proposing significant changes to that framework, these must be discussed and agreed by both Government and the parties to the Northern Ireland Executive.

Only through a collective approach in line with international human rights obligations can we hope to deal with these issues comprehensively and fairly. As the Senator will be well aware, the Government has joined with the British Government and the political parties in Northern Ireland in a process of intensive engagement on these issues, with discussions beginning in early July which are ongoing. Importantly, this process has engaged fully with victims representatives and civil society. The intention is to find an agreed way forward that will allow implementing legislation to be introduced in both the UK and Ireland by the end of the autumn. As part of this process, we are committed to working with the British Government and the political parties in Northern Ireland to address the painful legacies of the Troubles. We must find a way forward on these crucial issues to support wider societal recognition, build greater community confidence in policing and meet the legitimate needs of victims and survivors in Northern Ireland and across the island of Ireland.

The Government has made very clear that any approach based on a general statute of limitations that would see an end to investigations and prosecutions of Troubles-related incidents would represent a very radical departure from the Stormont House Agreement. It is one that we cannot support. This view is shared and has been strongly expressed by every party and victims group and by people from all communities and with a wide range of experiences. It is for the British Government to take that response on board now. We have cautioned it strongly against unilateral action.

I welcome the work of Senators Boyhan, Currie, An Cathaoirleach and all the other Members of this House who engaged in that meeting in Northern Ireland. All of us working collectively from across the political spectrum get to make that point. It is a point that needs to be made loud and clear, because whatever the intentions behind the proposal, a proposal like this will not work if it does not have the support of all of Northern Ireland. It will undoubtedly be challenged in the courts, and if it fails, it will only add years of uncertainty and heartache for families with no gain.

We have consistently said that we are ready to engage with concerns or issues in respect of the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, but any such changes must be discussed by the parties and both Governments. The Government is also committed, as was the case at the time of the Stormont House Agreement, to fully play our part in collective efforts that will deliver for the legitimate needs of victims and survivors across both jurisdictions and for society as a whole. Go raibh maith agaibh.


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