Dealing with the legacy of the Troubles is not easy, but there are no shortcuts. 在 2014, the UK and Irish governments and Northern Ireland parties came together and negotiated a comprehensive and balanced framework for dealing with the legacy of the past – the Stormont House agreement.
That agreement allowed for proper independent investigations and prosecutions where possible. It also proposed the establishment of an independent international mechanism so people could come forward and tell what they knew without that information being used against them in court. It allowed for oral history initiatives and acknowledgment.
No one claims that it is perfect or that it commands universal support, but those who would criticise it have a very high bar to clear to provide a workable and sustainable alternative that is clearly better. If there are proposals to improve or strengthen it further, we should consider them. If we can agree them, let’s do that and get on with implementing it.
This is why I agreed with the secretary of state for 北爱尔兰, 布兰登·刘易斯, last month that we should begin a process of engagement with the 北爱尔兰 parties on legacy issues. The aim of these short, focused discussions is to find a way forward that will allow implementing legislation to be introduced in the UK and Ireland by the end of this autumn. These talks will involve both governments and the five main 北爱尔兰 parties, and will engage with victims’ representatives and stakeholders from all sides.
The Irish government is ready to engage and play our part in finding a way forward. Only a collective approach that has the support of both governments and the Northern Ireland parties, in line with international human rights obligations, will be sustainable and can deliver for victims and all of society in Northern Ireland and on these islands.
The UK government has this week published its proposals for a general statute of limitations to apply to all Troubles-related killings and attacks. It wants these proposals to be considered in these current discussions, and they will be, as will proposals from the parties or from victims’ groups.
然而, in our view, an approach based on a general statute of limitations that is effectively an unconditional amnesty would not have the support of the political parties in Northern Ireland. It would not have the support of those representing the bereaved families left behind by conflict in Ireland, north or south, or in Britain. Nor could the Irish government stand over it.
Whether the person who killed their loved one was a soldier or a member of a paramilitary organisation, every family bereaved in the conflict must have access to an effective investigation and to a process of justice, regardless of the perpetrator.
That goes for the Bloody Sunday and Ballymurphy families. That goes for the Kingsmill families. It goes for the Dublin and Monaghan families and for the Birmingham families, whom I was privileged to meet a little over a year ago. It goes for all families.
Some may point to the difficulty of finding full consensus on a way forward in Northern Ireland to deal with the legacy of the conflict, and may encourage the UK government to legislate for such a unilateral approach. In our view, this would be politically and legally unsustainable, and would damage relationships and trust critical to the protection of the achievements of the peace process.
The UK government’s own extensive public consultation in Northern Ireland, published in 2019, showed a clear majority of the 17,000 responses firmly opposed to an approach based on amnesty. We continue of course to see prosecutions against paramilitary as well as state actors, with four convictions in legacy cases over the last 10 年, all of paramilitaries.
We do not believe an approach based on a general statute of limitations would be compatible with the obligations of the European convention on human rights. It would undoubtedly be tested in the courts and if it failed there, it would only add years of uncertainty and misery for families with no benefit.
We will not advance reconciliation by moving away from a commitment to accountability or shying away from difficult truths. Above all, any way forward must be based on a collective approach, like that agreed in the Stormont House framework. If the UK government, or other parties to that agreement, believe it needs to be amended, this must be something we discuss and agree together.