What now for legacy?

The widely opposed Legacy Bill is now enacted as the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act, 2023. But it remains widely hated and the Irish government has launched inter-state proceedings against the UK administration. This is a clear and strong sign of how bad relations are between the two governments that are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement.

Out of what we can now call the Legacy Act comes the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery. While this body – abbreviated to ICRIR – investigates past events from the Troubles, the Act limits criminal investigations, legal proceedings, inquests and police complaints.

The Act also extends the prisoner release scheme that was initially enacted in 1998. In addition, the legislation aims to provide “for experiences to be recorded and preserved and for events to be studied and memorialised”.

The Irish government’s inter-state case claims that the Legacy Act reneges on previous commitments entered into by the UK government through the Stormont House Agreement. In addition, that the legislation is not victim-centred; that it is not consistent with obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, which is a cornerstone of the Good Friday Agreement; that it is widely opposed within Northern Ireland; that it allows for the granting of immunity; and that it closes down existing police investigations and civil actions. Ireland argues that the ICRIR investigations are not a substitute for properly resourced police investigations.

In the latest Holywell Conversations, Sara Duddy from the Pat Finucane Centre explains why it and the victims it represents will not co-operate with ICRIR. Coinciding with the establishment of ICRIR, the Centre has launched its own ‘Impunity Project’, through which families of victims of Troubles killings seek to challenge false allegations against dead relatives. In some cases – as with Bloody Sunday – the Army falsely accused the dead of being bombers or otherwise paramilitaries to ‘justify’ their killings.

Families are now seeking two types of justice – to know the truth behind killings and to correct false allegations against dead relatives.

The other interview in the latest podcast is with Peter Sheridan, a former senior officer with the RUC and PSNI who is now Commissioner for Investigations at ICRIR. He operates under the overall leadership of former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Sir Declan Morgan, who is the Chief Commissioner.

Peter Sheridan says that ICRIR hopes to be fully operational in the middle of this year and explains how it will proceed and how relatives of those who died, and also those seriously injured, will be able to raise cases with ICRIR. He argues strongly that his police background will not undermine his credibility as lead investigator.

With such a wide array of opponents and critics of the Legacy Act – ranging from the five largest Northern Ireland parties, to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Chief Commissioner, to the departing Victims Commissioner, to victims groups and to international human rights groups – it seems implausible that ICRIR will have an easy birth.

The podcast can be listened to at the Holywell Trust website along with previous episodes.

Disclaimer: This project has received support from the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council which aims to promote a pluralist society characterised by equity, respect for diversity, and recognition of interdependence. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Community Relations Council.

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