Troubles legacy: London’s break from deal ‘deeply concerning’

New proposals condemned by NI victims’ groups, Irish Government and MPs

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee  has described the proposals as ‘unilateral and unhelpful’. Above, Boris Johnson. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/PA Wire

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has described the proposals as ‘unilateral and unhelpful’. Above, Boris Johnson. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/PA Wire

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MPs at Westminster have strongly criticised new proposals by the UK government to address the legacy of the Troubles, which they described as “unilateral and unhelpful”.

An interim report by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which will be published on Monday, said the lack of detail from the UK government was “deeply concerning” and MPs were “dismayed” at the lack of consultation with victims’ groups.

Instead they called on the UK government to return to the mechanism for dealing with the legacy that had previously been agreed between the Irish and UK governments.

“The [UK] government must, as soon as possible, introduce legislation that is consistent with the six principles of the Stormont House Agreement,” the report stated.

The committee chairman, Conservative MP Simon Hoare, said the new proposals were a “unilateral departure” from the agreement.

“There was a lack of consultation, even with the very people it is supposed to serve; the victims. The move is counterproductive and seems more like a decree than a natural evolution of an agreed framework.

“We are calling on [the UK] government to urgently introduce legislation based on the core principles of the Stormont House Agreement and return to a collaborative approach, engaging with victims’ groups, parties, and – where necessary – the Irish Government.

“Without this, there is no buy-in, no legitimacy, no credibility for a way forward on legacy, which would only serve to delay the wait for truth,” he said.

Troubles deaths

The commitment to introduce legislation to implement the provisions on legacy outlined in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement within 100 days was one of the pledges of the New Decade, New Approach deal that restored the North’s Assembly in January.

It included the creation of an independent historical investigations unit to investigate outstanding Troubles-related deaths.

However in March, the North’s secretary of state, Brandon Lewis, outlined in a written statement to the House of Commons a new approach to dealing with legacy that included “significant changes”.

Under the new proposals, only cases where there is a “realistic prospect” of prosecution would be investigated, and all other cases would be closed permanently.

The new proposals were widely condemned by victims’ groups in Northern Ireland and by the Irish Government, which continues to call for the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.

In the report the committee makes a number of criticisms of the UK government’s approach, including the lack of detail and failure to provide evidence to the inquiry.

For this reason, Mr Hoare said, the report was necessarily an interim one, adding that “we urge the UK government to urgently provide this evidence and invite the Irish Government to do the same to help clarify the situation for victims.”

MPs also called for further clarity over plans to permanently close Troubles-era cases, which they said raised “profound legal, ethical and human rights issues”, adding that there was “considerable doubt” that this was the right approach.

‘Meaningful engagement’

The UK government, they said, “must conduct meaningful and transparent consultation with victims’ groups, Northern Ireland political parties and, to the extent necessary, the Irish Government before publishing legislation”.

The report noted there had been no reference in the March statement “to the appropriate role and responsibilities of the Irish Government in relation to the new legacy body”, and asked the UK government to address this.

The Irish Government, they said, “will have a role to play in parts of a new legacy process” and said a collaborative approach needed to be maintained to help resolve legacy cases.

“That will best be achieved by the UK government adopting a policy of meaningful and appropriate engagement with the Irish Government as envisaged in the Stormont House Agreement,” the report said.

It also called on the UK government to ensure any new legacy institution have sufficient funding,to publish guidelines setting out the steps it would take to ensure investigations were compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights, and to outline how its proposed information-recovery system would operate, as well as to examine the lessons that could be learned from the Operation Kenova investigations into Troubles-era killings.