NI rights groups critical of ‘rush’ to set up contentious UK legacy body

Attempt to establish organisation comes before Bill to give it force enacted into law

Human rights organisations in Northern Ireland have criticised the “rush” to establish the UK’s new legacy body before it becomes law.

On Thursday, the North’s former Lord Chief Justice, Declan Morgan, was identified as the head of the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).

The announcement was made as the controversial legislation to set up the body had its final committee sitting.

It will now progress to the report stage and is expected to become law before the UK parliament takes its summer recess in July.


Ahead of Thursday’s debate on the Bill families of some of those killed during the Troubles held a protest outside the Northern Ireland Office in Belfast calling for the Bill to be scrapped.

Daniel Holder, the deputy director of the Belfast-based human rights NGO the Committee on the Administration of Justice said it seemed there was a “rush to get the new legacy body up and running before a UK election next year, despite domestic, UN and European concerns the Bill is unlawful.”

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer said earlier this year that if elected prime minister, he would repeal the legislation.

Mr Holder also said there were “significant procedural questions here as to how appointments can be made before the Bill is even law” and issued a warning over the timescale for the implementation of the legislation, which he said “as it stands would start to shut down the existing legacy mechanisms within two months of being passed at Westminster, including even civil legal claims and Police Ombudsman’s investigations”.

Mark Thompson from victims and survivors group Relatives for Justice said Mr Morgan’s appointment was “hugely disappointing” and that it had been made “before the legislation is even finalised or passed tells us that chat about ‘significant amendments’ is distraction and nonsense”.

Widely condemned

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill aims to “draw a line” under the past by replacing current methods of criminal and civil investigations and inquests with inquiries carried out by the new body, which has the power to offer conditional amnesties for perpetrators.

It has been widely condemned, including by the North’s five main political parties, victims and human rights groups, the Republic’s Government, other parties in Ireland and Britain and internationally. It is supported by veterans’ groups.

As chief commissioner for the ICRIR, Mr Morgan is expected to begin preparatory design work in early June and will take part in the recruitment process to identify other commissioners.

He said he wants to “engage with all those affected so that the new commission can be designed in the way that best serves their and Northern Ireland society’s needs”.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said Mr Morgan had demonstrated a longstanding “commitment to addressing Northern Ireland’s past” and he would bring “the highest level of experience, expertise and integrity to this post which will help build public confidence in the ICRIR”.

Recruitment is already under way for the post of commissioner for investigations at the ICRIR, which includes the requirement that applicants must be British citizens or hold dual British nationality.

Mr Holder said this represented “backsliding” on the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement which provided “equality of treatment for British and Irish citizens” and instead “excludes persons both in the South and Northerners who wish to exercise their Good Friday Agreement rights to be accepted as Irish only”.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times