Stormont legacy mechanisms about finding truth, not apportioning blame – Coveney

Legacy mechanisms to deal with Northern Ireland’s troubled past are about establishing the truth, not apportioning blame, Simon Coveney has said.

Ireland’s deputy premier said families had a right to learn about what happened to their loved ones.

He was responding to concerns voiced by some unionists that fresh investigations could be disproportionately focused on state actions during the conflict.

Stalled mechanisms agreed by the region’s parties as part of the 2014 Stormont House Agreement are finally set to be implemented as part of the deal to restore powersharing.

Ulster powersharing
Ulster powersharing

They include an independent investigation unit to establish if any prosecutorial opportunities remain and a truth recovery body to help families find out more details about the deaths of their loved ones in cases where prosecutions are unlikely.

“What both governments have agreed to do and that has been reinforced by this agreement is to try to establish the truth, so that families can access the truth about what happened to their loved ones,” Mr Coveney told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“That truth has to be fair across all communities. It is not about apportioning blame, it’s about establishing the truth and I think we are going to try and move forward now.

“The British Government has committed to move forward on the basis of the Stormont House Agreement in this (powersharing) agreement and I think that is going to be a big challenge for Julian Smith, as a Secretary of State, to explain in Westminster but also to convince people in Northern Ireland who want him to move ahead with this process, but to do it in a way that is fair and truthful.

“And I think we can do that and certainly the Irish Government is there to help and to work with communities to bring them on that difficult journey.

“But that is a journey that is essential if we are going to achieve true reconciliation in Northern Ireland which is ultimately what we need to do.”

Mr Coveney also downplayed the influence of the UK general election result on achieving the breakthrough that secured the return of Stormont.

Some have claimed the DUP losing its status as Westminster kingmaker changed the dynamic in the talks, and ultimately led to the party being more willing to sign up to proposals that it had previously rejected.

Ireland’s foreign affairs minister said the agreement did not come about because of the election.

“That hasn’t just happened because of a British general election and the changing balance of the power that has involved the DUP in the past,” he said.

“I have been working with all parties in Northern Ireland for two years. We have had an intensive engagement for the last nine months since the tragic murder of Lyra McKee – a young journalist who was shot and killed in Derry nine months ago.

“And I think all parties, regardless of British general election results, have been working for some time to try to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland, to try to ensure that Northern Ireland can take decisions for itself again.

“Certainly the British general election has been part of that story, but I wouldn’t characterise it as the dominant influence over what has been achieved this weekend.”