The Irish Government announced today, Wednesday, December 20, that it is initiating an inter-State case against the UK under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday that in its application, the Irish Government will argue that the provisions of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 are incompatible with the United Kingdom’s obligations under the Convention.

“This decision was taken after much thought and careful consideration," Tánaiste Micheál Martin said on Wednesday.

“I regret that we find ourselves in a position where such a choice had to be made.

“However, the decision by the British Government not to proceed with the 2014 Stormont House Agreement and instead pursue legislation unilaterally, without effective engagement with the legitimate concerns that we, and many others, raised left us with few options. The British Government removed the political option and has left us only this legal avenue.

“The incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into Northern Ireland law is a specific and fundamental requirement of the Good Friday Agreement. Since the UK legislation was first tabled, the Government have been consistent that it is not compatible with the Convention.

“I used every opportunity to make my concerns known, and urged the British Government to pause this legislation.”

The Tánaiste highlighted: “I have consistently adopted a victims-centred approach to this issue. We are not alone in our concerns. Serious reservations about this legislation have also been raised by a number of international observers, including the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Most importantly, this legislation is opposed by people in Northern Ireland, especially the victims and families who will be most directly impacted by this Act.

“In particular, we have concerns around provisions which allow for the granting of immunity, and which shut down existing avenues to truth and justice for historic cases, including inquests, police investigations, Police Ombudsman investigations, and civil actions.

"Even in cases in which immunity is not granted, 'reviews' by the proposed body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) are not an adequate substitute for police investigations, carried out independently, adequately, and with sufficient participation of next of kin.

“The British Government enacted this legislation on 18 September 2023, shutting off any possibility of political resolution.

“We now find ourselves in a space where our only recourse is to pursue a legal path.

“It is important to leave the next steps to the Court.”

Speaking earlier on Wednesday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: "We think, at this stage, we really have no option but to ask the European Court on Human Rights in Strasbourg to carry out a judicial review of this legislation. We informed the British government of that this morning."

The controversial Northern Ireland Legacy legislation, which will end new Troubles-era cases and inquests and offer conditional amnesty to those accused of killings, has the rare distinction of being opposed by all of Northern Ireland’s major political parties.

As well as the Irish government, it is also opposed by victims and victims groups, US politicians, Irish American groups, UN experts, and the majority of the UK public.

On Wednesday, the Irish Government's announcement that it will be initiating an inter-State case against the UK was welcomed.

Mary Lou McDonald, President of Sinn Féin, said: “Victims and families have been stating from the outset that this cruel and shameful Act is a flagrant breach of international human rights law."

McDonald accused the British Government of rushing the legislation despite the opposition and called it "a blatant attempt to shut the door on families’ efforts to achieve truth and justice through the courts and to give an amnesty to British state forces involved in the murder of, and serious human rights violations against, Irish citizens."

She added: “Heartbroken families have been fighting for years, determined to get truth and justice for their loved ones. They should not have been forced to take individual legal actions against this Act, and this action by the government will now complement these challenges.

“We will stand with those families as they challenge this cruel and cynical law, and as they continue to campaign with dignity and determination for truth and justice.”

Interstate case will strengthen challenge to shameful Legacy Act – @MaryLouMcDonald

“Victims and families have been stating from the outset that this cruel and shameful Act is a flagrant breach of international human rights law"

— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) December 20, 2023

Colum Eastwood, head of Northern Ireland's SDLP, said on X: "The legacy legislation was always about protecting the interests of soldiers and paramilitaries above the needs of victims and survivors.

"The Irish Government is absolutely right to take this inter-state case against the British Government to hold them to their obligations."

The Relatives for Justice group, which awaits a decision on its own legal challenge in Belfast to the Act, also said: "All Irish citizens affected by all actors to the conflict must have their rights defended by the Irish government, this is practical defense of those rights.

"We recognise it is a move not taken lightly, but reflects the egregious position the Legacy Act has created. This move is in the interests of victims and survivors.

"It is not only a legal move, it is a humanitarian one. It is a move that defends the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement, in this, the year of its 25th anniversary. It is a move that, unlike the appalling Legacy Act, defends hope and healing."