Statement in response to legacy inter-state case by the Irish Government

Statement follows confirmation by the Irish Government that it intends to pursue an interstate case against the UK regarding the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act

The Rt Hon Chris Heaton-Harris MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The UK Government profoundly regrets the decision taken by the Irish Government today to bring this unnecessary case against the UK.

The decision comes at a particularly sensitive time in Northern Ireland. It did not need to be taken now, given the issues are already before the UK courts.

The Independent Commission for Reconciliation & Information Recovery (ICRIR), led by Sir Declan Morgan KC, is continuing its work ahead of its full establishment next year. The UK Government urged the Irish Government, before considering action, to engage directly with the Commission to understand better its plans for the implementation of the legislation, particularly given that effective information recovery for many families will require cross-border cooperation. It is a matter of considerable regret that it has chosen not to do so.

Although the Irish government refers back to the Stormont House Agreement nine years ago, the reality is that there was no cross-party consensus or agreement to the practical implementation and out-workings of that agreement.

The Tánaiste has stated that the Irish Government is intent on pursuing a victim-led approach. They have been critical about our proposed approach on the grounds that it moves away from a focus on criminal prosecutions. We believe that the Irish Government’s stated position on dealing with legacy issues is inconsistent and hard to reconcile with its own record. At no time since 1998 has there been any concerted or sustained attempt on the part of the Irish state to pursue a criminal investigation and prosecution based approach to the past.

We note, in particular, the former Irish Justice Minister and Attorney General’s 2014 reference to an informal decision on behalf of the Irish Government to not investigate Troubles cases – something that he  restated publicly in 2021 in response to our proposals.

Indeed the Irish Government should urgently clarify the number of criminal prosecutions brought in Ireland since 1998 relating to Troubles cases.

It is also a matter of public record that successive UK and Irish Governments during the peace process worked closely together on a range of initiatives which have provided conditional immunity and early release from prison.

While this step is disappointing, it is one for which the UK Government was prepared. The UK Government remains confident that the Act provides a robust and effective framework to allow the ICRIR to discharge our legal obligations.

We will continue robustly to defend the legislation, including to ensure that the work of the ICRIR can continue without impediment while proceedings are ongoing. The overriding purpose of the Legacy Act is to enable more victims and survivors to obtain more information faster than can be achieved under current legacy mechanisms. We cannot afford further delay in the provision of effective legacy outcomes - both for families and wider society.

The bilateral relationship with Ireland is, and always will be, one we value deeply. Despite this misguided action, we will continue to work to minimise the consequences and protect the interests of the people and businesses that bind us together.

Northern Ireland Office
The Rt Hon Chris Heaton-Harris MP