I will begin by thanking the Chair, Deputies, Senators and clerks for inviting me to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement to discuss my research findings. What I will speak about first is how the Irish Government has dealt with conflict legacy. I also thank all those who contributed to my research, especially victim and survivor groups and their representatives.
I will speak briefly about what the research looks at, which is essentially three key questions. The first is how effectively the Irish Government has dealt with Northern Ireland conflict legacy. Second, what more could the Irish Government do to assist dealing with conflict legacy? Third, how might the Irish Government enhance its efforts in that regard?
When we look at the overall conclusions from my research so far they suggest that the Irish Government has taken steps towards dealing with conflict legacy since 1998, but more needs to be done to meet the needs of victims and survivors. In the early 2000s there were various reports into legacy cases in Ireland by Mr. Justice Barron and Mr. Justice MacEntee. In addition, Judge Peter Smithwick's tribunal report was released in 2013. The Irish Government also supported the Stormont House Agreement's proposed legacy mechanisms in 2014.
Ireland has faced external challenges to progressing specific legacy cases. These include Brexit, the UK authorities' lack of co-operation at times in specific cases and the collapse of power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, my recommendations outline how the Irish Government can still take further steps towards dealing with conflict legacy.
Why should the Irish Government deal with conflict legacy? In terms of dealing with the past, the primary focus so far has been on Northern Ireland because an estimated 3,453 of the 3,720 conflict-related deaths occurred there. However, the conflict also had a direct impact on the Republic of Ireland. There were at least 121 conflict-related deaths in this State. Thirty four people, for example, died following the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in May 1974. Some 300 others were injured in this attack. On the recent anniversary of this atrocity in May 2019, the Taoiseach's statement reminded us that the Dublin and Monaghan bombings represent "the highest number of casualties in any single day during the Troubles".
There were other cross-Border attacks by both loyalist and republican paramilitaries into or originating from the Irish State. Examples include attacks in Belturbet, Castleblayney, Dundalk, Dublin and cross-Border incidents in counties Armagh Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone. Some of those incidents are detailed in the written evidence I have provided.
Seven Irish security force members were also killed during the conflict. In addition, various interviewees for the research highlighted the Irish Government's crucial role in building and sustaining peace. The evidence shows that the Irish State was directly involved during the conflict and also the peace process.
What are the key priorities for the Irish Government to consider when dealing with conflict legacy? My recommendations are made with three key priorities that interviewees and others want at the heart of the legacy process. The first is to assist victims and survivors in their search for justice, truth and closure. That is the key priority. The second priority is to ensure public confidence in the Irish Government across these isles. The third priority is to enhance British and Irish relations by co-operating on conflict legacy.
The recommendations I made come under six themes. The first theme relates to full engagement with the Stormont House Agreement. Some of the key recommendations under this theme include that the Irish Government should, first, parallel the historical investigations unit, HIU, in Northern Ireland. Alternatively, it should create an oversight committee, body or appoint an independent person to help oversee ongoing legacy cases in Ireland. Another recommendation under the theme is to assist the independent commission for information retrieval, ICIR, by sharing archival documents where required to cross-check information provided.
There is also the idea of creating an oversight mechanism, individual, committee or academic team, or all of these, to help oversee the national security redaction process of archival documents. Moreover, there is a suggestion of reappointing a victims commissioner for the Republic of Ireland. The second theme covers transparency and sustained communication with victims and survivors. One key recommendation is that the Government should create a citizens' assembly or victims' forum in Ireland to ensure maximum engagement opportunities for and with victims and survivors. The third theme is about mental and physical health services for victims and survivors. The Irish and British Governments must ensure that victims and survivors are able to equally access required services across these islands. The fourth theme is about engagement and co-operation between Irish and British authorities. The recommendations include trying to increase engagement and co-operation. This could include committee members or Government officials visiting the UK to raise awareness of legacy cases with interested parties and politicians in the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Westminster Parliament. Ministers and politicians can raise awareness of legacy cases in the UK media as well. The fifth theme concerns remembrance. The suggestion is that the Government should organise and hold an annual remembrance day related to the Troubles alongside the British and Northern Irish authorities. The sixth theme relates to acknowledgement statements. The suggestion is that the Government should consider giving acknowledgement statements alongside all sides involved in the conflict. The key point is that these are not necessarily apologies but an acknowledgment that each side took different approaches during the conflict which negatively affected, or have been perceived as counter-productive to, other groups.
I will comment on the research methods for this project. The foregoing recommendations are partly based on interviews conducted with: various victims and survivors groups; Irish and UK politicians, past and present; former Irish and UK security force personnel; former Irish republican and Ulster loyalist activists and prisoners; and academics. I cross-referenced interviewee responses with others alongside other sources detailed in my report. I look forward to discussing and reviewing some of these recommendations with the committee in due course.
Finally, as requested, I will provide some thoughts on the impact of Brexit on citizenship across the island of Ireland. Professor Niall Ó Dochartaigh, from NUI Galway, and myself have produced a paper entitled Citizenship on the ethnic frontier: nationality, migration and rights in Northern Ireland since 1920. We looked at the rights of Irish people in England, Scotland and Wales and the rights of UK citizens moving to Ireland from 1920 to date. There are two central points I wish to mention briefly about how Brexit might impact citizenship on this island.
The Good Friday Agreement partly helped to end the conflict by recognising the contested nature of British and Irish citizenship in the North. The peace agreement accepted the right of all people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves as Irish or British or both. The Agreement states that this right would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland. It is vital to ensure that dual citizenship in Northern Ireland remains. Otherwise, Irish people living in the North will feel their voice is ignored and their identity is overlooked. This point matters because one fact encouraging conflict on this island between 1912 and 1998 was the perception or actual existence of particular national identifies being suppressed.
The second point is our research found that Irish people moving to England, Scotland or Wales and UK citizens moving to Ireland have received generous citizenship rights. For example, an Irish person moving to Britain permanently for work does not face restrictions in voting or accessing healthcare. The key question is whether Irish people living in the UK will still experience the same generosity following Brexit. I believe that still remains unclear. I look forward to questions on this topic from the Chair, Deputies and Senators.