- Irish Government remains committed to establishing the Stormont House Agreement institutional framework on the past;
- Minister Flanagan recently met the Northern Ireland Victims’ Commissioner;
- Meeting with Northern Ireland Justice Minister will take place this week;
- Minister Flanagan and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will review progress later this month.
I wish to thank the Deputy for raising this critically important issue.
I think it is important to start with the positive and what was achieved by the Fresh Start Agreement. It has placed government in Northern Ireland on a sound budgetary footing, which is so important for economic stability and development, and also agreed new financial supports that will help to unlock the full potential of the all island economy. It has agreed a plan to bring to an end the insidious influence of paramilitarism and measures to further enhance North-South cooperation on tackling associated criminality and organised crime. But crucially, the Fresh Start Agreement has assured the political stability of the devolved power sharing institutions so that they can deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.
Notwithstanding these clear gains, the Government of course regrets that the Fresh Start Agreement did not include agreement on the implementation of provisions of the Stormont House Agreement dealing with the legacy of the past. We share the deep disappointment of the victims and survivors of the Troubles and their families in this regard.
It is worth stressing again that it was not the Irish Government who pressed for an agreement that completely left aside the legacy of the past. However, when it became clear that the choice was between having an agreement which uncoupled the past and having no agreement at all, the Government most reluctantly agreed to have a less comprehensive deal that would at least ensure that the devolved institutions would be protected and placed on a stable and sustainable footing.
What is important now is that we find a way forward that banks the good progress already achieved during the talks on legacy issues and secures a solution to outstanding matters, including the key issue of striking the right balance between the onward disclosure needs of families and the national security requirements being sought by the British Government.
To this end, I met with Northern Ireland’s Victims’ Commissioner on 26 November to discuss the concerns of victims and possible ways to take the issue forward in a way that satisfies these concerns. I will also meet the Northern Minister for Justice, David Ford, this Friday and with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, later this month in order to take stock of the implementation of the Fresh Start Agreement.
In the Fresh Start Agreement, both Governments acknowledged the “need to resolve the outstanding issues concerning the legacy of the past and to reflect on the options for a process to enable this”. While I am determined to re-engage on this work in the very near future, it is also important that the selected process of engagement offers a credible prospect of success; the victims and survivors simply cannot be disappointed again. Insofar as the issue of onward disclosure and national security vetoes remains a zero-sum stumbling block to wider progress, there also needs to be a measure of flexibility, compromise and common sense so that an acceptable accommodation can be found.
When discussing the past in Northern Ireland and its legacy of loss and hurt, the iconic tragedies such as Ballymurphy, Kingsmill, Pat Finucane and Dublin-Monaghan are never far from my thoughts. In regard to the latter, I share Deputy’s Smith’s disappointment that the British Government has not yet positively responded to the relatively modest requirements of the All-Party motion approved by this House. It is an issue that I have raised on a number of occasions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and will continue to do so while I have the honour of serving in this post.
In conclusion, I assure the Deputy that the Government remains committed to finding a way forward so that the establishment of the new institutional framework on the past can take place on an agreed basis as envisaged in the Stormont House Agreement. We are determined to achieve the establishment of these institutions so that we can in a fundamental way deal with the past, foster reconciliation and build a society for future generations that is free from hurt and suspicion. This is essential if the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement is to be realised.
9 December 2015