Tánaiste strongly criticises British plans for Northern Ireland legacy legislation on Washington visit

Minister for Foreign Affairs says UK move would break trust on principles on which peace had been built

British Government plans for dealing with legacy issues from the Troubles in Northern Ireland would break trust in the very principles on which peace has been built, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has said.

Speaking in Washington DC on Wednesday he said he feared the British legacy plans would “set back reconciliation and keep wounds open”.

“It holds out the possibility of immunity for perpetrators of gross violations of human rights and closes off avenues to justice – undermining hard won confidence in the rule of law and the justice system. This will damage individuals. It will hold back society.”

Mr Martin in his address to the Atlantic Council urged the British Government to “reconsider their approach”.


“A collective approach based on consent, inclusion and rights has underpinned every step of progress in the peace process – legacy should be no different.”

Mr Martin said far too many families still had unanswered questions arising from the violence in Northern Ireland.

“There are still too many myths and mutual accusations for us to build the truly reconciled Northern Ireland its people deserve.”

“I thought we had a mechanism to deliver for families and societies when in 2014 in Stormont House agreement the two governments and most parties in Northern Ireland set out a pathway to deal with the past. Sadly, the Stormont House provisions on legacy remain unimplemented.”

“Instead, in the last year, the UK Government has chosen a unilateral approach, with their Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.”

Mr Martin said this bill was opposed by all Northern Ireland political parties, by victims groups, by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and by the Council of Europe.

He said it was also opposed by Westminster’s own human rights committee and that recently 27 members of the US House of Representatives voiced their opposition in a letter to the British prime minister Rishi Sunak.

“Without dealing properly with the traumas of the past, they become the trauma of the next generation. Instead we should be building our understandings of the damages done to individuals, to families, to communities, and in those understandings ensure that these harms can never be revisited”, Mr Martin said.

Mr Martin said he detected political will on the part of both the UK and EU to resolve the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol by negotiation. He said the EU would be flexible.

He said he believed issues that unionists had raised could be resolved.

“We understand unionists’ concerns and we want to respond to the concerns they have raised and hopefully things can progress.”

However, he said he did not understate the difficulties and the challenges in relation to securing an agreement on the protocol.

“But we are two and a half years on from the original challenges. The geopolitical situation has changed dramatically. There is a mood in Europe that on the big geopolitical questions such as Ukraine, migration, energy, food and hunger that we need to be aligned with the UK, the United States and other like-minded democracies on these big issues. That is the compelling reason for the resolution of this issue.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent