We have strongly communicated our position on this issue to the British Government and will continue to do so, and to caution in the clearest terms against any unilateral action.
It has been the consistent position of the Government that the Stormont House Agreement provides a balanced and comprehensive framework to address the painful legacy of the Troubles based on the principles of truth, justice, rule of law and reconciliation. Progress on its implementation is crucial, for families and victims and for society as a whole. It was agreed in 2014 by both Governments and the political parties after intensive negotiations, and it should be implemented.
Where the British Government propose significant changes to the Stormont House framework, these must be discussed and agreed by both Governments and the parties to the Northern Ireland Executive. Only through a collective approach can we hope to deal with these issues comprehensively and fairly and in a way that responds to the needs of victims, survivors and society.
Following a meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference on 24 June, we agreed to begin an intensive process of engagement with the British Government and the Northern Ireland parties to find an agreed way forward. Discussions began in July and since then, officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs have met a broad range of stakeholders. Importantly, this process has engaged fully with victims’ representatives. The intention is to find an agreed way forward that will allow implementing legislation to be introduced in both the UK and Ireland.
The proposals published by the British Government on 14 July for a ‘Statute of Limitations’, ending criminal investigations and prosecutions relating to Troubles-related incidents, as well as inquests and civil litigation, have caused significant upset, shock and concern. They represent a very radical departure from the Stormont House Agreement and we do not accept them as the basis of a way forward. It is important to say that there has been a clear message from victims groups throughout this process that this cannot be the way forward. It has also been strongly and publicly opposed by all the parties.
I have engaged regularly with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, who is leading for the British Government on these proposals, including a meeting in person on 3 September in relation to the ongoing legacy engagement process. I also met with the Minister for Justice in Northern Ireland, Naomi Long, on 16 September during which legacy, amongst other issues, was discussed. My officials have also stayed in regular contact with their counterparts in the Northern Ireland Office.
It is the position of the Government that there should be effective investigations into all Troubles-related deaths, regardless of the perpetrator. The rule of law and the protections afforded by the European Convention on Human Rights must apply equally to everyone and must be upheld, and this principle is at the core of the Stormont House framework.
The Government will continue to engage and work with the British Government and the parties represented on the Northern Ireland Executive on this very important issue in the period immediately ahead, including in upcoming meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference.