Troubles legacy Bill: Ireland taking a case against UK ‘could damage Anglo-Irish relations’

‘Extraordinary’ that Rishi Sunak’s government is pursuing legislation, says Bertie Ahern

The Government risks damaging Anglo-Irish relations if it takes a case against the British government over UK plans to introduce controversial legacy legislation to deal with the Northern Ireland Troubles, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern warned.

Mr Ahern said he was still hoping UK prime minister Rishi Sunak would not proceed with his government’s Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill given widespread opposition to it in Northern Ireland, the Republic and among other British political parties.

“The risk is that, you know, it leads to a lot of bad blood where there is a lot of good co-operation in a lot of areas ... if you take an interstate [case], first of all it will go on for several years so it will go into the life of a new government and Keir Starmer has said that if he is elected he will repeal it.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Friday the Government was waiting on legal advice from Attorney General Rossa Fanning SC on the possibility of taking an interstate case and he expected the Government would receive that advice within weeks.


“There is the legal question as to whether we have a strong case and what that case would look like, and there’s also the political question because it’s not a small thing for one state to take a case against another state, but this is a serious situation,” said Mr Varadkar.

Speaking in north Cork on Sunday where he addressed the 100th General Liam Lynch Commemoration, Mr Ahern said if the Government’s legal advice was to take an interstate case, then it might be difficult not to proceed with such action, notwithstanding the associated political risks.

“If the legal advice is that they have to do it, then you have to do it, but I find it extraordinary that the British government is pursuing this. I really do – I just think it is totally unnecessary.”

Mr Ahern said he was in regular contact with many in the loyalist and unionist community in Northern Ireland and there is universal opposition to the Bill. “It is rubbing everybody wrong – I have talked to nearly every politician in the North, there is nobody in favour of this.

“I just wish they stop it (but) it looks like it is going to pass on Tuesday and then that is it, it goes to the king. It is very unfortunate – I really did think they would think about it over the summer and drop it, but they seem to be determined to go ahead.”

Mr Ahern also urged the DUP to drop its opposition to returning to Stormont as the people of Northern Ireland wanted to see devolved government restored and he believed people from both the nationalist and unionist communities want the restoration of the assembly and the executive.

“They (the DUP) are waiting for Rishi Sunak to come back with some amendments. If those amendments are impossible for them, if it means he then has to go back to the 27 (EU states) and start renegotiating them, he is not going to do that – he is not going to be able to do that.”

Mr Ahern said that everyone including the Irish Government and Sinn Féin had afforded the DUP plenty of time to address the issue but “they need to wrap it up because everyone and Sinn Féin have given a lot of time to Jeffrey [Donaldson] to get his ducks in a row”.

“He said at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, that the anniversary was not the appropriate time, then he said the election was coming up in the North and that was not the appropriate time, then he said it was the marching season and that was not the appropriate time,” Mr Ahern said.

“Now we are gone through the summer, and we are still sitting around – so it is very damaging for Northern Ireland that they do not have the institutions up. Really, really, they should reflect on the position because, without mentioning any names, I think people are ready to move on.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times