BRITISH moves to curtail police enquiries into almost 2,000 unsolved killings committed during the Troubles have been met with protests from both the Dublin government and nationalist leaders in the North.
Under new proposals from the British government, some cases would still be investigated, but only “where there is new compelling evidence and a realistic prospect of a prosecution”, according to the Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis.
He said: “These proposals also put an end to repeated reinvestigations where there is no new compelling evidence and deliver on our promise to protect veterans from vexatious claims.”
The majority of the unsolved cases are believed to have been carried out by paramilitary groups — both the IRA and loyalist gangs — but some are strongly suspected to have been the work of service personnel in the British armed forces.
The move has been lobbied for by many Tory MPs and sanctioned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
He promised during the Tory leadership contest that there would be an end to the ‘vexatious’ investigation of members of the security forces — including the British Army and the RUC — for suspected murder, or collusion in serious crime.
But the move has been met with criticism from the Dublin government, who believe it breaks the joint UK-Ireland Stormont House agreement of 2014.
This focused on the need to deal with legacy issues from the Troubles.
The Dublin position is that the rule of law and the protections afforded by the European Convention on Human Rights must apply equally to everyone and cannot be cherry-picked. This, they say, was enshrined in the agreement.
The Dublin government’s position is unchanged: any crime during the Troubles, no matter who the perpetrators are believed to be, must be effectively investigated, with due process subsequently applied.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that any deviation from the agreed framework needed the consent of all sides.
Northern Ireland deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin said the changes were “unacceptable”, adding that agreed legacy structures could not be tampered with.
The Tánaiste will now discuss the matter with Brandon Lewis and the Stormont groupings in order to find a way ahead.
The Northern Executive is only just up and running after a long lay-off over such issues as dealing with the legacy of the past.
The Irish government is thus very aware that precipitous action such as proposed by Mr Lewis carries with it the risk of derailing the political process in the North.