Belfast Telegraph

Regardless of who someone was and what they were doing, there is a requirement to effectively investigate their death

By Charlie Flanagan

Twenty-eight years after the murder of Pat Finucane, and 19 years after the Good Friday Agreement, there is much for us to reflect upon.

As a solicitor I remember the shock which the murders of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson caused amongst the legal profession.

Each and every murder visits tragedy upon families and violence upon society, but these were further amplified by the chilling sense of an attack on the law itself.

To uphold the law in accordance with the highest standards is as much a vocation as it is a profession.

Officers of the law must be allowed to do their duty without attacks on their personal or professional integrity, much less their lives.

It is our duty to create the conditions under which the law can operate without fear or favour.

The past is far too near and its echoes should be far too loud for this to be forgotten anywhere on these islands.

The same respect for the rule of law and the human rights of all underpins the architecture agreed in 2014 at Stormont House.

The Stormont House Agreement set out a comprehensive, inclusive approach to dealing with our troubled past, which also meets the obligations of State parties - including the British and Irish Governments - under the European Convention on Human Rights.

These obligations mean there can be no hierarchy of victims in this process.

Regardless of who someone was and what they were doing, there is a requirement to effectively investigate their death.

It is not for governments to say to the bereaved that their loss or suffering is of greater or lesser worth than that of their neighbour or even their enemy.

Similarly, if a killing has taken place it must be properly investigated to ascertain if it was unlawful and thereafter, if the threshold of proof is met, a prosecution legitimately pursued.

This process is not about seeking to find an artificial balance or equivalence, but about ensuring that we have a comprehensive approach.

I want to acknowledge the many men and women in the police, on both sides of the border, who performed their duty to protect the public and serve their country with diligence and honour throughout the Troubles.

Their service must not be forgotten; there is no contradiction in my mind between this acknowledgement and the need for a holistic approach, where collusion and other wrongdoing is also identified and pursued.

The statistics speak for themselves, with the vast majority of those who lost their lives killed by paramilitary groups.

Having said that, I would always caution against any effort to make discussion of these issues a numbers game.

Behind each of those numbers is a person and the grief of a family.

I remain acutely concerned about the failure to properly resource legacy inquests and would again urge the British Government to implement the proposals of the Lord Chief Justice to address this issue.

This would fulfil the outstanding Article 2 obligations in respect of these 56 outstanding cases and provide trust and confidence in our collective capacity to address legacy issues.

The Irish Government remains strongly committed to continuing to work with the British Government and the political parties in Northern Ireland to see the comprehensive, inclusive architecture of the Stormont House Agreement put in place as soon as possible.

This work will require intensive political engagement, commitment and a spirit of compromise if victims and survivors are not to be let down once again.

The time is now.

  • Charlie Flanagan is a TD and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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