Simon Coveney: I will call out UK if legacy laws are unfair

Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The Irish Government has promised to “call out” British ministers if legislation addressing Northern Ireland’s decades of violence is unfair or unbalanced.

Deputy premier Simon Coveney said the political debate at Westminster about the Troubles was one-sided.

The British Government is preparing legislation to investigate thousands of unresolved killings during the 30-year conflict.

Mr Coveney said: “Legacy is complicated and difficult, and in some way the debate is somewhat one-sided.

“That poses huge dangers and creates real concerns amongst the nationalist community, in particular because of the lack of a voice to create balance in that debate in Westminster.

“Whatever way you describe it, there is not a balanced debate on this issue.

“The Secretary of State (Karen Bradley) faces real challenges in ensuring that we have legislation that is fully balanced and fair, and takes into account the sides equally in terms of the balance of that legislation.”

Mr Coveney addressed a debate on Northern Ireland in Ireland’s upper house, the Seanad, in Dublin on Wednesday.

The British Government has consulted on proposals to create a team of independent detectives to review old cases for new criminal prosecution opportunities.

A separate body would seek fresh information about killings to deliver answers for victims’ families where no prosecution is possible.

An oral history archive would allow those affected to tell their stories and a body promoting reconciliation would also begin work.

Some MPs have pressed for a statute of limitations exempting retired soldiers from prosecution for crimes committed in Northern Ireland.

It represents an amnesty neither the British nor Irish governments accept should be allowed.

Prosecutors recently said they would pursue one former soldier for murder over two Bloody Sunday killings in Londonderry early in the conflict in 1972.

Northern Ireland Secretary Ms Bradley faced fierce criticism recently after she said killings at the hands of the security forces were “not crimes”. She later apologised.

Mr Coveney said: “She knows that she made a real mistake but now she wants to move on in a balanced and fair way.

“I think Karen Bradley is a good person and I can work with her, so if the legislation moves in the wrong direction we will call that out, we have an obligation to do that.”

The 2014 Stormont House Agreement between the main political parties in Belfast plus the British and Irish governments originally proposed the legacy institutions.

Political disagreement in Northern Ireland and the collapse of devolved power-sharing delayed its implementation.