Joe Biden offers help to Ireland over opposition to Legacy Bill

Chris Heaton-Harris, right, says the chances of further convictions are slim
Chris Heaton-Harris, right, says the chances of further convictions are slim - Liam McBurney/PA

Joe Biden has offered Ireland support in its row with Britain over a new UK law giving amnesty to Troubles-era murderers.

Dublin is considering a rare interstate legal challenge against the law, which is also opposed by all the major political parties in Northern Ireland, in the European Court of Human Rights.

The US President, who is fiercely proud of his Irish roots, met with Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar, in New York on Wednesday.‌

The Taoiseach said he discussed the UK Legacy Bill, which received Royal Assent on Monday, as well as the ongoing Stormont deadlock over Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.‌

“I told him we had no specific ask at the moment but we are very happy that he is continuing to keep abreast of issues in Ireland,” Mr Varadkar said in New York, where the UN General Assembly is being held.

‌He said he had brought up the Legacy Bill and told Mr Biden that while there was no specific request for his help at the moment, “we would keep him appraised of things”.

‌Asked if he might request the US president’s help, Mr Varadkar, said: “Well, the offer is there, but there is none at the moment.”

‌Dublin is considering taking the UK to the European Court
‌Dublin is considering taking the UK to the European Court - Getty/Charles McQuillan

‌Mr Biden, who senior unionists have accused of hating Britain, has form for intervening in disputes between Dublin and London.

‌After the UK threatened to tear up the Irish Sea border Brexit treaty, Washington warned that would mean a trade deal with the US being taken off the table.

‌Micheál Martin, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, also briefed White House and State Department officials about the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.

‌Dublin expects to receive legal advice over the possibility of taking the UK to the European Court, which is not an EU body, in the next two weeks or so. It has called on London to pause the law.

‌“There are legal questions but also political questions,” Mr Varadkar said, according to the Irish Times.

‌“It is not a small thing to take a case to Strasbourg against another state, a neighbouring state,” he said of a challenge which would risk derailing improved relations after the signing of the new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland in February.

‌“[It is] not something we would like to do or a position that we want to be in. But we have to do what’s right, and the voice that we always listen to when it comes to the Troubles legacy is the voice of the victims and their families.”

‌More than 1,000 killings during the Troubles have never been solved.

Joe Biden has offered to support Ireland in challenging the Troubles amnesty Bill
Joe Biden has offered to support Ireland in challenging the Troubles amnesty Bill - EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/TOLGA AKMEN

‌The Legacy Bill will stop new inquests and civil cases in an effective amnesty and set up an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.

‌Killers will be offered immunity for providing information about murders and families of victims offered a report into the circumstances of their relatives’ deaths.

‌It is opposed on the island of Ireland, including by Sinn Fein and the DUP.

‌They argue that its conditional amnesty to accused killers during the Troubles will rob victims of justice from the IRA or British forces.

‌But Chris Heaton-Harris, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has said the chances of any convictions 25 years after the end of the Troubles are slim.

‌He has called on Dublin to cooperate with the new commission.

‌So far 16 legal challenges have been lodged against the legacy legislation, which received Royal Assent on Monday.

People confront British soldiers minutes before paratroopers opened fire killing 14 civilians on Bloody Sunday
People confront British soldiers minutes before paratroopers opened fire killing 14 civilians on Bloody Sunday - HULTON ARCHIVE/William L Rukeyser

‌They involve victims’ cases from 1971 to the mid 1990s and include the widow of a man shot dead by the British Army in 1987.

‌Some families were at Belfast’s Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday for a brief review of the challenges.

‌If Dublin does launch a legal challenge it will be the second time Ireland has taken the UK to the European court.

‌The Strasbourg-based court found 14 men were subjected to “inhuman and degrading treatment” by the UK during their interrogation after Dublin brought a case to it in 1971.

‌A Northern Ireland Office spokesman said: “The Legacy Act provides a framework to deliver effective legacy mechanisms for victims and survivors, while complying with our international obligations.

“The UK Government will do all it can to support the ICRIR as it establishes itself and seeks to deliver effectively for victims and survivors. We hope that others, including the Irish Government, can do the same.”