Written answers

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Northern Ireland

Photo of Patrick CostelloPatrick Costello (Dublin South Central, Green Party)
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27. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade when the Government in view of the British plans to issue an amnesty for troubles related crimes will legislate for legacy mechanisms with specific reference to the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval. [56581/21]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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It has been the consistent position of the Government that the Stormont House Agreement provides a balanced and comprehensive framework to address to the legacy of the Troubles. It was agreed by both Governments and the political parties after intensive negotiations, and it should be fully implemented – for the families and victims who have waited for too long.

The framework of the Stormont House Agreement provided for a set of institutions to deal comprehensively and fairly with the legacy of the Troubles, and this framework included an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR) for truth recovery, to be available to victims and survivors across the UK and Ireland. The objective of the ICIR will be to enable victims and survivors to seek and privately receive information about the Troubles-related deaths of their next of kin.

The Irish and British Governments concluded an agreement on the establishment of the ICIR in October 2015. As set out in that agreement, the Commission will consist of five members; an Independent Chairperson of international standing, appointed by the two Governments, one Commissioner each appointed by the Irish and British Governments, and two Commissioners appointed jointly by Northern Ireland's First Minister and deputy First Minister.

The ICIR agreement was signed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in October 2015 and laid before the Oireachtas in January 2016. The Independent Commission can only be formally established once the necessary legislation has been enacted in both jurisdictions and the two Governments have notified each other of completion of all other domestic legal procedures required to bring the agreement into force.

I have engaged extensively with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on these issues to urge him to move forward with the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement legacy bodies, including the ICIR, and we remain in ongoing contact to support a way forward on these matters.

It is crucial that we find a way forward with the two governments and the parties that meets the needs of victims, and is based on the principles of justice, reconciliation and the rule of law. We have a responsibility to seek an agreed approach, for those families who have waited for too long.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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28. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will raise with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland the long-standing concerns of the families of the victims of the Springhill Westrock Massacre of July 1972 in relation to the totally unacceptable delay in holding an inquest; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56353/21]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Every family bereaved in the conflict, including the family members of the victims of those shot dead in Springhill Westrock in Belfast on 9 July 1972, must have access to an effective investigation and to a process of justice regardless of the perpetrator. All victims’ families deserve support in securing all the information possible about what happened to their loved ones.

Last July marked the 49th anniversary of the Springhill Westrock massacre, which saw Margaret Gargan, John Dougal, David McCafferty, Patrick Butler and Fr Noel Fitzpatrick lose their lives. Their deaths at Springhill were part of the tragic legacy of the Troubles which saw the loss of over 3500 lives from all communities.

The Government welcomed the announcement in 2014 of a new inquest into the deaths of the five Springhill victims by the then Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin. It is understood that earlier this year, the case was listed for a pre-inquest hearing, which is expected to take place in the next 12-18 months. It is a matter of disappointment and frustration that it has taken this long for the family's case to reach this stage. The outcome of the Ballymurphy Inquest demonstrated what can still be achieved on these complex legacy cases all these years later, and the impact that it can have.

As agreed at the BIIGC on 24 June, the Government joined the British Government and the Northern Irish parties in a process of intensive engagement on legacy issues, with discussions beginning in July. 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 this Autumn.

As we have consistently stated, a statute of limitations and the discontinuation of inquests, as proposed by the UK Government in their Command Paper ,is not something that the Government can support. It is important to say that there has been a clear message from victims groups throughout this process that this cannot be the way forward. It has also been strongly and publicly opposed by all the parties.

We have consistently said that we are ready to engage with concerns or issues to do with the implementation of the Stormont House agreement but any such changes must be discussed and agreed by the parties and both Governments. It is vital that any approach is collective if it is to work, and crucially, that it meets both the needs of victims and our shared international human rights obligations.

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