The Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, chaired by Deputy Fergus O'Dowd TD, has called on the UK Government to withdraw the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.

The Committee said in a statement today, June 26, that the Bill would end inquests, Police Ombudsman investigations, civil cases, and police investigations into crimes committed as part of the Troubles.

In doing so, the Legacy Bill would remove vital avenues to the truth for the countless families in Northern Ireland who are grappling with the painful legacy of the Troubles. 

Today our GFA Joint Committee has called on the UK Government to withdraw the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill #Legacybill #GFA

— Fergus O'Dowd (@Fergusodowd) June 26, 2023

Speaking on behalf of the Committee, Deputy O'Dowd said: "Since the Bill was first announced, the Committee has met with many victims and their families.

"We have witnessed their anguish at the prospect of losing vital opportunities to find out the truth of what happened to their loved ones and hold perpetrators to account. This Bill risks traumatising these victims once more.

"The Bill flies in the face of the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. It is considered unacceptable by every political party in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

"It has also been criticised by the overwhelming majority of victims’ representative organisations, by civil society, church leaders, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Council of Europe, as well as Westminster’s Joint Committee on Human Rights.

"The Committee emphasises that the Bill is a unilateral move away from the 2014 Stormont House Agreement in which parties in Northern Ireland, together with the British and Irish governments, decided on mechanisms to better assist these families, and to pursue justice. That agreement was endorsed again by both governments, in the 2015 Fresh Start and the 2020 New Decade, New Approach deals.

"The Committee has sought to communicate its grave concerns at this proposal throughout the legislative process. While we welcome engagement with the Committee by Lord Caine and others, we are disappointed that our concerns and those of victims have not been addressed. 

"The Committee calls on the British Government to withdraw the Legacy Bill. If the Bill is enacted, the Committee will ask the Irish Government to consider interstate litigation in the European Court of Human Rights. This course of action would demonstrate tangible support and solidarity with victims' campaigners by sparing them the costly and arduous task of bringing individual cases to challenge the Bill.

"This year we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement was an extraordinary achievement of the UK and Irish Governments. The result of the Agreement – peace in Northern Ireland – was painstakingly achieved and must be protected. The work of reconciliation remains incomplete and could be undermined by the proposals in this Bill.

"The Committee calls on the UK Government to engage with the Irish Government in a spirit of partnership to find a way forward. The Governments must work together urgently to strengthen reconciliation in Northern Ireland and fulfill their shared obligations as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement."

The non-profit group Relatives for Justice said on Monday that it "warmly welcomes" the statement from the Committee:

RFJ warmly welcomes this considered statement from this all-party and influential Joint Oireachtas group.
It builds on genuine dialogue and engagement

— Relatives 4 Justice #NeverGivingUp (@RelsForJustice) June 26, 2023

Meanwhile, the majority of the UK public is opposed to the bill, according to the results of an Amnesty International UK poll published last week.

The Bill has also received considerable pushback from US groups, including Congress members, the Ad Hoc Committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

On Monday, the UK House of Lords supported two amendments to the Bill - one calling for the removal of the Bill's immunity provision, and another seeking to ensure a minimum standard for case reviews by the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR.)