The UK Government had no “pre-sight” of a proposal for the incoming Irish government to agree access to documents relating to Troubles atrocities, the Northern Ireland Office has said.
The draft deal between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party to form a new coalition government commits to working with the UK to “address the painful legacy of the Troubles”.
This includes engaging with the UK to ensure access by “an independent, international judicial figure” to original documents relating to a number of atrocities, such as the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
During a meeting of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, North Antrim MP Ian Paisley asked NIO minister Robin Walker whether the announcement had been a surprise to him.
Mr Paisley also accused the Irish parties of a “one-dimensional interest” in legacy matters.
“They don’t seem to mention the murder of British civilians and British soldiers that were taken to the Republic of Ireland and murdered and slaughtered there and dumped on our border,” he said.
Mr Walker responded: “The Irish government has made an announcement today, it is not something of which we necessarily had pre-sight so I can’t comment on any specific figures in relation to this.
“Legacy issues, we all recognise, are hugely sensitive and I do recognise, having met some of the victims’ groups in border areas, the deep concern that there is about some of those cross-border cases.
“I think it is absolutely right that the legacy process should seek to address those as well as issues that took place within Northern Ireland and the wider UK.
“But these are matters that need sensitive handling between the governments and that is something we will absolutely continue to invest in.”
Mr Walker was also asked about a proposed new unit within the department of the taoiseach to work “towards a consensus on a shared Ireland”.
“I think this is something which has been talked about for some time and I can understand the political pressures that led to it being created, but I think we have to be clear there are institutions and there are arrangements that already exist which recognise the separate strand and the correct role for where the Irish government has an interplay on north-south issues and on east-west issues with the UK Government,” he said.
“But also where there are strand one issues which are clearly domestic, we should not be seeking to change that, and should be seeking to continue to work with the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement which have been supported by all.
“We have a good working relationship with successive Irish governments, it’s not for me to speculate on politics in the Republic of Ireland, but I think it is important that we also respect the fact that we will sometimes disagree on issues and have done indeed many times over the years.”
The committee had invited Mr Walker to attend for questioning as part of its New Decade, New Approach inquiry.
The deal paved the way for the restoration of the Stormont Assembly after a three-year collapse of relations between the parties.
Mr Walker paid tribute to First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill for “having put their differences aside to work together to protect the public”.
He said implementation reports have been delayed.
“The original deal suggested that the first implementation meeting would have to take place at the end of January. I think for various different reasons that didn’t take place at the end of January, and as we said the meeting of the board had to be postponed from March,” the minister said.
“Getting that report commission properly progressed is a priority, it will obviously require the implementation review meetings to take place… that is a priority for us as soon as implementation meetings can be taking place.
“I can’t promise a date for publication as yet but we recognise that this is an important part of the deal and something that needs to be brought forward at the earlier opportunity.”