The UK government should reconsider pursuing controversial Troubles legacy legislation that is opposed by “virtually everyone”, an Irish minister has said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney was commenting after holding talks with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton Harris on the contentious Bill that is progressing through its parliamentary stages at Westminster.
The draft legislation proposes a new approach to dealing with the legacy of the conflict in the region, with more focus on truth recovery rather than criminal justice outcomes.
Its most controversial aspects are the promise of immunity from prosecution for perpetrators who agree to provide information to a new truth body, and a move to end conflict-related civil cases and inquests.
The Bill is a unilateral move away from the 2014 Stormont House Agreement, in which the UK and Irish governments proposed a model that involved a new independent unit to reinvestigate unsolved murders.
Mr Coveney said the Irish government had “deep concerns” with the UK approach.
“We’ve probably had a more comprehensive discussion today than we’ve had to date on why the Irish government is so concerned at that approach, and I think our concern is shared by many in Northern Ireland – civil society, victims’ groups, political parties here,” he said.
“I did spend most of this morning speaking to victims’ representative groups and it was just a reminder to me of how and why we need to design a system to deal with the sensitivity and the trauma of legacy in Northern Ireland in a way that involves partnership and consensus around that approach, as opposed to taking a unilateral position against the advice of virtually everybody.
“Because we don’t believe that makes sense. So, you know, my relationship with the Secretary of State is actually a really good one. It allows us to have very blunt discussions on issues that we have differences of opinion on.
“And I think we had that today in a spirit of honesty and partnership, and I hope we’ll be able to work with the British government as a partner to maybe find a different way forward here on legacy in a way that can be supported in Westminster as well.”