Martin warns Johnson: No unilateral move offering amnesty to British soldiers

Leaders ‘reflected’ on coroner’s report into the Ballymurphy massacre published this week

British prime minister Boris Johnson (right) and Taoiseach Micheal Martin greet each other  at Hillsborough Castle in Belfast last summer. The two are meeting today at Chequers in England. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

British prime minister Boris Johnson (right) and Taoiseach Micheal Martin greet each other at Hillsborough Castle in Belfast last summer. The two are meeting today at Chequers in England. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

 

The Taoiseach Micheál Martin has warned Boris Johnson against any unilateral move to offer an amnesty to British soldiers for alleged crimes during the Troubles.

Speaking after a meeting with the British prime minister in Chequers, Mr Martin said they discussed the implementation of the 2014 Stormont House agreement which deals with legacy issues.

“We continue to exchange perspectives on that but we stressed the necessity for no unilateral approaches on it, there would to be an inclusive process in terms of any discussions around that, and other related issues in terms of New Decade New Approach,” he told RTÉ News.

The Taoiseach said he and Mr Johnson had a “considerable discussion and exploration” of issues surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol.

“Of course fundamentally it’s a European Union-United Kingdom discussion and negotiation. We’re all mindful of its impact on Northern Ireland, and the importance of dealing with the issue in a non-contentious way, and working to see can these issues be resolved.

Withdrawal

“It is our view that these issues can be resolved in the processes that have been laid down by the withdrawal agreement, and in the context of the joint committee. And we do know that Maros Sefcovic on the EU side and David Frost get on well together, have the capacity to work well together and if there was a collective will on all sides that we can resolve some of these issues,” Mr Martin said.

The two leaders’ lunch at the prime minister’s country residence came amid tension over the Northern Ireland protocol and legacy issues and while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) were choosing Edwin Poots as their new leader.

A Downing Street spokesperson confirmed the discussion between Mr Johnson and Mr Martin touched on the findings of the inquest into the deaths of those killed in the Ballymurphy massacre.

“The leaders reflected on the Coroner’s report into the Ballymurphy massacre published this week. They agreed it was profoundly sad that the families of victims had to wait so long for the truth,” the spokesman said.

“The Prime Minister restated the UK Government’s commitment to finding a way forward in Northern Ireland that delivers for victims, aids truth recovery and helps communities in the future.”

Collaboration

“The Prime Minister and Taoiseach discussed their shared ambitions for the future of the UK-Ireland relationship including further collaboration on science and technology, fighting climate change and cultural endeavours.

“They agreed on the importance of working together to uphold the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and to maintain smooth trade between Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The leaders resolved to continue to work together in our fight against coronavirus and to closely share information in order to enable a better recovery.”

Britain is seeking Ireland’s help as it negotiates with the European Commission over the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol Mr Johnson agreed last year.

Britain wants a more flexible application of EU rules on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland based on data quantifying the risk that such goods will cross the Border into the EU single market.

Mr Johnson this week stepped back from a proposal to block all prosecutions for alleged crimes by British soldiers during the Troubles, apart from war crimes, genocide and torture.

Amnesty

The proposed amnesty, which would also apply to loyalist and republican paramilitaries, was not mentioned as part of a legacy bill in the queen’s speech on Tuesday.

Mr Martin travelled to England earlier today to meet Mr Johnson.

Officials in Dublin said the meeting had been arranged following talks between Mr Johnson and the Taoiseach in recent weeks and was not scheduled as a result of the Ballymurphy verdicts or the controversial proposals by the British government to halt future prosecutions of British soldiers for crimes committed during the Troubles.

Sources said further talks between officials on legacy issues could result from the meeting, though there is alarm in Dublin that the British government has unilaterally set aside the provisions of the Stormont House Agreement without consulting either Dublin or parties in the North.

Rebuild trust

Officials said they hoped that a face-to-face meeting could rebuild trust between the two governments after a period in which relations have become strained.

But Mr Martin was expected to rebuff any attempts by Mr Johnson to have negotiations on the substance of the protocol, as this is an EU-UK matter, rather than a bilateral one between the two states.

In a sign that the British side wanted to have discussions on the protocol, it was expected that Lord David Frost, the British cabinet minister responsible for relations with the EU, will attend the meeting.

Tensions with unionism over the protocol were partly responsible for internal criticism in the DUP of party leader and Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster. Mr Poots has said he will not operate the protocol, though it remains part of British law.