Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Questions (43)

Seán Crowe


43. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that thousands of persons marched in a rally (details supplied) in respect of certain mechanisms; and the steps he is taking to ensure that the British Government ceases stalling and delaying the legislation to give effect to these mechanisms. [25103/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

I tabled this question after the Time for Truth march in Belfast on 9 June. Thousands of people marched to demand access to truth and justice for those killed in the conflict on this island. It comes in the face of continued stalling and delaying by the British Government on legacy issues. What is the Government going to do to ensure that the British Government stops stalling and delaying the legislation to give effect to these mechanisms?

The Government is aware of the Time for Truth march that took place in Belfast on 9 June and was attended by a range of victims' families and groups.

Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were present at the event on the day and the Government maintains ongoing contact with many of the victims’ families who participated in support of their efforts to secure truth and justice, often after decades.

The Tánaiste has engaged extensively with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and with the leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland to seek the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement legacy framework.

At the meetings of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and in our bilateral meetings, the Tánaiste strongly emphasised to the Secretary of State the urgency of definitively moving ahead to a legislative phase to get the Stormont House bodies established.

This Government has also consistently emphasised the need to ensure proper resourcing of legacy inquests in Northern Ireland, consistent with Article 2 obligations. The announcement on 28 February by the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland that the necessary resources will be in place so that outstanding legacy inquests will be heard, consistent with the proposals of the Lord Chief Justice in Northern Ireland in 2016, was welcome. It is imperative that these proposals be promptly implemented in order that outstanding inquests can proceed without further delay. The Government has also been consistently supportive of adequate resourcing for the Office of the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland which, under the current system, has responsibility for the investigation of relevant legacy issues. The Government will continue to engage to seek the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement legacy framework, which will help to provide victims' families with a way to access whatever truth and justice is possible in their cases. This will be an important step in achieving a truly reconciled society.

We all agree that "promptly" is the key word. Unfortunately, many of the families who are marching on the Time for Truth march have been trying to highlight their cases for decades. The Ballymurphy families are having an inquest 48 years on from the killings of their loved ones. This is wrong on many levels and it is unacceptable that families have to take to the streets once again to get access to the legacy mechanism agreed five years ago by the two Governments in the Stormont House Agreement. Victims' families have been waiting far too long and they are getting older. Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are out marching now and looking for answers. This issue will not go away.

It is welcome that families recently received notification from Mrs. Justice Siobhan Keegan that there will be a listing in September to set out a timeline to begin legacy inquests. I am relieved to see some movement in the journeys of some families but the difficulty is that it is not all families. We need to see full implementation and proper funding for the legacy framework. Will the Minister of State confirm that the full implementation and proper funding of the legacy mechanism will be agreed at Stormont House as a priority for the Government?

A couple of issues arise with regard to the Northern Ireland Commission for Victims and Survivors and the Stormont House Agreement legacy bodies. The Deputy referred to the Ballymurphy case and if I have time, I will return to that. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, have received the advice paper on the legacy bodies from the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, Ms Judith Thompson. The sharing of the commissioner's advice with the Government is welcome. I bring this up because it reflects the cross-Border nature of much of the legacy framework and that the families of victims and survivors have an equivalent interest in seeing an effective system in place for dealing with the past. The Government will consider closely the commissioner's paper as we continue to work with the implementation of the legacy framework of the Stormont House Agreement as soon as possible, with the needs of victims and survivors at the core of our approach. The Minister for Justice and Equality and the Tánaiste met the commissioner on 18 April to discuss her policy advice and suggestions to both Governments on implementing the Stormont House Agreement legacy framework.

We saw recently the arrest of two investigative journalists, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, who were involved in making the film "No Stone Unturned", which highlighted the collusion between British intelligence and the loyalist gang that murdered six men at the Heights Bar in Loughlinisland in 1994. The journalists were accused of possessing confidential documents. Three weeks ago, the Lord Chief Justice ruled that the search warrants used by the police were inappropriate. This has resulted in the criminal probe into the journalists being discontinued. The two journalists did everything to protect their sources and their prosecution was wrong. They have said that they view the PSNI investigation into their research of the Loughlinisland massacre as an attack on press freedom. Does the Minister of State agree? Does he agree that the PSNI and the Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary should apologise to Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, their journalistic colleagues and the Loughlinisland families? These are legacy families who are also looking for answers.

I am not in a position to say who should or should not apologise while ongoing negotiations are taking place between the two Governments. Deputy Crowe will be aware that advice has been received from the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors on the Stormont House Agreement legacy bodies. Talks are ongoing on all legacy issues, including the Ballymurphy, Kingsmill, Ludlow, McAnespie and Finucane cases. Consultations are taking place between the Government and representatives in Northern Ireland. In the next weeks and months, we will keep the Deputy informed regarding information we gather on legacy issues, including the cases to which I referred. That is a reasonable and fair approach.