Ireland considers legal action against UK’s Northern Ireland legacy bill

Dublin opposes a proposed UK law that would grant immunity to those involved in 30 years of Northern Ireland conflict.

Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin says his government asked for legal advice [File: Peter Muhly/AFP]

The Republic of Ireland is considering legal action against a proposed United Kingdom law that would grant immunity to those involved in 30 years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland – the period known as The Troubles.

The Financial Times newspaper reported on Monday that the controversial Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which is being considered in the UK legislature, would create a truth and recovery commission offering amnesty to British security personnel and paramilitaries if they cooperate with its inquiries.

Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin said: “We have asked for legal advice … I’ll get that legal advice in the next fortnight, and then we’ll consider that in terms of what action we subsequently take.”

The bill, introduced in May 2022, has been condemned by families of those who died during that period and all political parties in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Amnesty International has warned that the bill would give “impunity to murderers and those responsible for torture”.

The legacy bill, which will return to the House of Lords on Tuesday and is expected to return to the House of Commons for approval in days, would also shut down any new inquests.

A mural
A mural displays dedications to Irish Republican Army (IRA) men who died during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, in south Belfast, October 23, 2001 [File: Paul McErlane/Reuters]

Dublin is considering whether it would be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Europe’s leading rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, has expressed “serious concerns” about the proposed law.

However, groups representing British veterans of that period have welcomed the news and have argued that former soldiers have been subjected to unfair prosecutions.

In November 2022, for the first time since the conflict ended in 1998, British soldier David Holden received a three-year suspended sentence for killing a man at a checkpoint, shooting him in the back.

During The Troubles, more than 3,500 people were killed in the conflict in the 1960s over British rule in Northern Ireland.

The UK’s Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, told an audience at the British-Irish conference, “The Legacy bill will become law.”

He added that while it does not please everyone, the possibility that Troubles-era crimes would see convictions now, years after the conflict ended, was slim.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies