Political leaders in Northern Ireland and the Republic unanimously oppose British Government plans to introduce a statute of limitations on Troubles prosecutions, the Irish premier has said.
Micheal Martin said he told Boris Johnson that political parties across the island are united in opposition to proposals to end Troubles prosecutions.
He made the comments following a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) on Friday.
The 26th plenary meeting was held via video conference and included Mr Martin, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar as well as Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis announced earlier this month that he intends to introduce legislation to create a proposed statute of limitations which would end all prosecutions for incidents up to April 1998 and would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries.
The plan has been heavily criticised by all the main political parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government, and a range of victims’ and survivors’ groups.
Mr Martin said it is time to implement the Stormont House Agreement.
“Our view is that the victims of atrocities, the families of those victims, need justice where justice can be provided,” he added.
“All agencies and all governments should and must cooperate in terms of providing the information that the families of victims require.”
Are we seriously suggesting that if the gardai made progress in terms of finding the killers of Tom Oliver that they would not be prosecuted and subject to the lawMicheal Martin
Mr Martin said he has “huge difficulty” in agreeing to Mr Lewis’s proposals for “anybody who committed murder, irrespective of whether they’re a state actor, or whether they’re in paramilitary organisations, who took the lives of so many people”.
He added: “Many of these cases are still open cases. We have the murder of (Co Louth farmer) Tom Oliver, for example.
“Are we seriously suggesting that if the gardai made progress in terms of finding the killers of Tom Oliver that they would not be prosecuted and subject to the law?
“The same applies in respect of British soldiers who committed crimes against civilians, the same applies to collusion, no matter where it took place on the island.
“I think we always have to have a high standard in relation to the loss of life, and we will engage in discussions with all concerned in that regard, with parties in the north, and with the victim’s families because they are the priority.”
“Victims are the priority, their issues are key.”
Mr Givan, a DUP Assembly member, said there should be a focus on facilitating truth and justice.
He added that over 90% of all the deaths that took place in Northern Ireland during the Troubles were perpetrated by terrorists.
“There has been an extensive focus, when it comes to the British state, in terms of inquests and when it comes to soldiers, and people do need to be held to account,” he added.
“But we need to make sure the focus here is on those 90% of killings, perpetrated by terrorist organisations and those individuals.
“Some of those fled across the border, and there are concerns from those families about the way in which there was a failure to extradite those individuals in the past.
For too long victims have played second place when it comes to the peace process.Paul Givan
“The Irish government will have a role in terms of answering those issues, we want to get information from the authorities in the south when it comes to those families.
“For too long victims have played second place when it comes to the peace process.”
Ms O’Neill said the proposals by the British government are “absolutely outrageous”.
“They’re based on the premise of vexatious claims against British state forces when we know that is a bogus argument.
“I can count on one hand the number of British state actors that have ever been prosecuted for their role in the conflict, but I certainly could say that almost 25,000 citizens here on the island of Ireland actually went to jail as a result of actions in the conflict.”