SEANAD ÉIREANN

Commencement Matter

 

16 April 2019

 

Statement by Charles Flanagan T.D.

Minister for Justice and Equality

 

 

The need for the Minister for Justice to provide an update on the publication of a proposed Bill to provide for enhanced cooperation with legacy inquests in Northern Ireland.

 

 

Check against Delivery

A Chathaoirleach,

 

I thank Senator Marshall for raising this important matter, which I understand to refer to the Criminal Justice (International Cooperation) Bill. 

 

I want to acknowledge the Senator’s work on these issues.  His membership of this House is important. He provides an invaluable perspective on many issues, not least those concerning the legacy of the dark days of horrific violence on our island.  I want to thank him for giving me the opportunity to update the House on an issue that he and I have discussed many times.  I want to acknowledge Senator Marshall’s deeply personal recollection of the horrors of the atrocity at Kingsmills and assure him of my sincere personal commitment to ensuring the Irish Government plays its part in implementing the commitments of the Stormont House Agreement, the negotiation of which I was closely involved in as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

 

I published the general scheme of the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill in December 2017, following approval by the Government.  This proposed new legislation is an important further step in the Government’s ongoing commitment to implement measures to address the legacy of the troubles on this island and to support the victims of the troubles and their families. 

 

In addition to enhancing the co-operation provided to Coroners’ Inquests in Northern Ireland into historical troubles related deaths, these proposals will further underpin the Government’s commitment to full co-operation with the framework of measures set out in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.

 

The proposed legislation will provide for a mechanism for Coroners in Northern Ireland who are conducting inquests into troubles-related deaths, to hear testimony from Garda Síochána witnesses using existing Irish law.

 

The Bill will also extend the provisions of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to allow the Garda Commissioner to enter into co-operation agreements with non-police/law enforcement bodies outside the State.  This will be an important element in our co-operation with those “legacy” institutions to be established under the Stormont House Agreement - the Historical Investigations Unit and the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval.

 

I must emphasise that this legislation is seeking to enhance further cooperation in addition to the considerable assistance which has already been facilitated by the Government and the Garda Authorities.  In respect of the ongoing Inquest into the horrific murders at Kingsmill, the Government, in June 2015, approved specific legal arrangements[1] to enable the transfer of material to the Northern Ireland Coroner.   These specific legal measures were made in response to the absence of an existing formal, legal mechanism which would have allowed the Garda Authorities to transfer relevant material outside the jurisdiction. 

 

In accordance with these 2015 legal arrangements, the Garda Authorities have provided the Northern Ireland Coroner with all relevant Documents in their possession and have responded to his follow up queries. 

 

The Bill is now at an advanced stage of drafting.  A considerable amount of legal work has been undertaken to ensure that, once enacted; this legislation will deliver on the Irish Government’s commitments to fully cooperate with Legacy Inquests in Northern Ireland.  I expect to publish the Bill before the Oireachtas summer recess.  On the basis of previous experience with North South related legislation I would expect broad support from all the members of this House and I am confident that this Bill will progress swiftly through the legislative process. 

 

 

Concluding Remarks

 

 

Dealing with the legacy of the troubles on this island is a difficult task without an easy solution.  I would like to emphasise that the Government is, and always has been fully and unequivocally committed to those provisions of the Stormont House Agreement on addressing the history of the violent conflict in Northern Ireland. 

 

It is a matter of regret that the political impasse in Northern Ireland has significantly delayed the establishment of the framework of measures set out in the Stormont House Agreement. 

 

That said, the Government remains fully committed to their implementation and we are continuing to work with the British Government and the parties in Northern Ireland to give effect to those measures. 

 

We are hopeful that once the measures provided for in the Stormont House Agreement have been put in place they will provide an opportunity for the families of the many persons killed during the troubles to access further information about those deaths where they wish to do so.

 

The Criminal Justice (International Cooperation) Bill will be an important element of the Irish Government’s commitment to this process and I look forward to bringing this legislation before this House in the near future and to continuing to work with Senator Marshall and his colleagues in this House.