Governments urged to reflect amid conflict over UK’s Legacy Act

Former British justice secretary Robert Buckland urges calm amid dispute between London and Dublin

The former British justice secretary Robert Buckland has called on the Dublin and London governments to “reflect over Christmas” after a row broke out over the UK’s legislation to deal with the legacy of the North’s Troubles.

The Irish Government announced on Wednesday that it is taking an inter-state case against the UK in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) following the passing of its Legacy Act in September. Ireland is to argue that the provisions of the Act are incompatible with the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Former British soldiers and paramilitaries involved in murders during the Troubles will be among those offered immunity from prosecution if they co-operate with a new ‘information recovery’ body. Inquests into deaths linked to the 30-year conflict will also end.

Mr Buckland, who was a member of Boris Johnson’s cabinet when the legislation was first planned, said he would be “extremely concerned” if it had been designed to protect the UK from investigation into decades of proven and alleged collusion by British security quarters and loyalist paramilitaries.


However, he “genuinely” did not believe that that was the case. Instead, he believed the intention then and now was to deal “fairly and squarely” with the prospect of now elderly “squaddies ending up in the dock”.

Most importantly, he said, it was to get more information more quickly into the hands of those who lost loved ones.

At the current rate, inquests are “going to take decades”, Mr Buckland said, adding that most families will no longer be around to hear how their “loved ones actually died”.

The Independent Commission for Reconciliation & Information Recovery proposed under the act will have integrity and independence, he said, and should be given a chance to work.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government did not take the decision to take the case lightly. “It took a lot of thought and a lot of consultation. We felt that as a Government we had to honour the promise that we made to victims, families and survivors and that is why we took the decision that we did,” he told reporters in Dublin.

In the UK, the right-wing Daily Telegraph was the only London daily newspaper to devote its front page to UK government “outrage” at Ireland’s legal challenge.

The lead article featured reaction from Marc Francois, chair of a hardline group of Tory MPs, to the move. “Who actually runs this damn country? Is it the democratically elected (UK) government, chosen from Parliament or an unelected, unaccountable foreign court?” asked Mr Francois, who heads up the pro-Brexit European Research Group.

The Conservative MP said the legislation had been “exhaustively debated” in the Houses of Parliament for a year and “cannot possibly be allowed to be overturned by an appeal to an activist foreign court”.

Former Conservative minister Jonathan Gullis said he hoped the Irish challenge will be “immediately rejected”.

“If not, this only goes to show why we, the UK, must withdraw from the ECHR to stop foreign courts meddling in our legislation,” he added.

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Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is Ireland and Britain Editor with The Irish Times

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times