British Government criticises Ireland's 'misguided' legal challenge to Legacy Act

British Government criticises Ireland's 'misguided' legal challenge to Legacy Act

THE IRISH GOVERNMENT has revealed it has launched a legal challenge to Britain's Legacy Act, which aims to do away with investigations and inquests into Troubles-era cases.

Announcing the inter-State case under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Tanaisté Micheál Martin said Britain's unilateral pursuit of the much-criticised legislation 'left us only this legal avenue'.

The Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 was opposed by all major parties in Northern Ireland, while human rights organisations voiced their concerns during the legislative process.

Responding to the legal action, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said it was 'misguided' and called out the Irish Government's own record on legacy issues.

ICRIR 'not adequate substitute' for criminal investigations

The Legacy Bill, which became law in September, can see those who co-operate with the new Independent Commission for Reconciliation & Information Recovery (ICRIR) granted immunity from prosecution over Troubles-era cases.

Critics say the new law will deny justice to victims, while a legal challenge has already been initiated by the families of several victims.

Mr Martin said the decision to initiate the inter-State case was taken 'after much thought and careful consideration' due to concerns victims would be denied justice.

"We are not alone in our concerns," said the Tánaiste.

"Serious reservations about this legislation have also been raised by a number of international observers, including the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"Most importantly, this legislation is opposed by people in Northern Ireland, especially the victims and families who will be most directly impacted by this Act.

"In particular, we have concerns around provisions which allow for the granting of immunity, and which shut down existing avenues to truth and justice for historic cases, including inquests, police investigations, Police Ombudsman investigations, and civil actions.

"Even in cases in which immunity is not granted, 'reviews' by the proposed body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) are not an adequate substitute for police investigations, carried out independently, adequately, and with sufficient participation of next of kin."

Ireland's legacy stance 'inconsistent'

Responding this evening, Mr Heaton-Harris claimed the Irish Government chose not to follow a recommendation to engage directly with the ICRIR to better understand its plans for the implementation of the legislation.

The Daventry MP also called into question Ireland's own record on dealing with legacy cases.

"The Tánaiste has stated that the Irish Government is intent on pursuing a victim-led approach," said Mr Heaton-Harris.

"They have been critical about our proposed approach on the grounds that it moves away from a focus on criminal prosecutions.

"We believe that the Irish Government's stated position on dealing with legacy issues is inconsistent and hard to reconcile with its own record.

"At no time since 1998 has there been any concerted or sustained attempt on the part of the Irish state to pursue a criminal investigation and prosecution-based approach to the past."

He added: "The bilateral relationship with Ireland is, and always will be, one we value deeply.

"Despite this misguided action, we will continue to work to minimise the consequences and protect the interests of the people and businesses that bind us together."

The ICRIR is led by Declan Morgan, former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, and is due to be fully established next year.

Ireland's inter-State case was brought under the ECHR, which permits any contracting party to refer an alleged breach of the Convention by another party to the European Court of Human Rights.