Delay in law aimed at ending prosecutions over Troubles-related crimes

Coveney urges Northern Ireland secretary to get broader support for reforms

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis said he was optimistic an agreement could be reached over the Protocol. Photograph: Daniel Leal/AFP/Getty Images

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis said he was optimistic an agreement could be reached over the Protocol. Photograph: Daniel Leal/AFP/Getty Images

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Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis has signalled a delay in bringing forward legislation to end all prosecutions, police investigations and legal actions over Troubles-related crimes. Speaking in London after a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC), Mr Lewis acknowledged that he had missed his target of bringing forward a bill during the autumn.

“I’m already past the autumn. I think the latest I’ve heard autumn described once was the autumn statement of December 4th one year. So, I think we’ve already missed that,” he said.

“The reality is, I think, it’s important to put the time in to try and find a way forward that can help Northern Ireland move forward. If that takes a bit more time, then that’s something we’ve been prepared to do, hence why we didn’t deal with this earlier in the year and we were focused on trying to do something in the autumn, but we will do everything we can to try and find a way forward that works together.”

The meeting of the BIIGC, an institution set up under the Belfast Agreement as a structure for relations between Dublin and London, was also attended by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and on the British side by Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns. Mr Coveney said the British government’s legacy plans did not have the support of parties and victims groups in Northern Ireland and warned Mr Lewis against legislating unilaterally without broader support.

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Protocol

On the Northern Ireland protocol, Mr Coveney restated his expectation that negotiations between Britain and the European Union would extend beyond Christmas.

“The truth is that there are serious gaps. There hasn’t been a breakthrough moment in the last number of weeks, but I think there has been, I think, a deeper understanding of each other’s positions. Do I think that all issues can be resolved linked to the protocol by the end of the year? I think that’s a very tall order and unlikely to happen,” he said.

“But I think we should still give time and space to the negotiating teams to continue to work through what are difficult issues for both sides. And I think there’s a commitment to doing that. And I think the less we talk about the triggering of Article 16 and the more we talk about trying to find landing zones that both sides can work with in the context of the protocol, and flexibility around its implementation, then I think the better.”

Mr Lewis said that “substantive gaps” remained between the two sides but he was optimistic that they would be able to reach an agreement.

“If we need to use Article 16 to move things forward, then we will have to do that. We don’t want to. Hopefully we can get a positive solution through the negotiations and discussions,” he said.