IRELAND has announced it will take the UK Government to court over controversial legislation to deal with the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Tanaiste Micheal Martin, the Irish minister for foreign affairs, said the UK had left his country with no other options but a legal battle and argued the Northern Ireland Troubles Act was in breach of international human rights rules.

The Act is deeply controversial because it provides conditional immunity from prosecution to those accused of killing people or other serious crimes during the Troubles, the civil war which engulfed Northern Ireland for 30 years from the late 1960s.

The European Court of Human Rights has previously said the Act is also in contravention of human rights rules because it effectively blocks investigations into killings or torture.

These, the court has contested, are violations of articles two and three of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The Act created a new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), which was given responsibility for reviewing deaths and other serious crimes committed by either side in the Troubles.

People who cooperate with the ICRIR by providing it with information are given immunity from prosecution.

During the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act's passage through parliament, it was opposed by all political parties in Northern Ireland.

'UK has left us no choice' 

The Republic of Ireland on Wednesday confirmed it would initiate an inter-state legal case against Britain under the convention, which will be reviewed by the chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.

READ MORE: Irish government to give UK Legacy Act ‘very serious consideration’

Martin (below) criticised the UK Government for failing to commit to the 2014 Stormont House Agreement, which would have also granted immunity from prosecution to the perpetrators of killings, or people with knowledge of murders, but only with permission from victims’ families.

The National: Micheal Martin

“The British Government removed the political option, and has left us only this legal avenue,” he said.

“Serious reservations about this legislation have also been raised by a number of international observers, including the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“Most importantly, this legislation is opposed by people in Northern Ireland, especially the victims and families who will be most directly impacted by this Act.”

Martin added: “In particular, we have concerns around provisions which allow for the granting of immunity, and which shut down existing avenues to truth and justice for historic cases, including inquests, police investigations, Police Ombudsman investigations, and civil actions.

READ MORE: Legacy Act cannot wipe away tears of Troubles victims, court hears

“Even in cases in which immunity is not granted, reviews by the proposed body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery are not an adequate substitute for police investigations, carried out independently, adequately, and with sufficient participation of next of kin.”

An inter-state case goes first to the chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, which will hear from both sides of the dispute.

A judgment is then made on the case’s admissibility and merits. If it is deemed to be admissible and to have merit, the case will then be heard by the grand chamber, comprised of 17 judges.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said the UK Government "profoundly regrets" the Irish government's decision to take the matter to court, calling it "misguided". 

He accused the Irish government of being "inconsistent" on historical prosecutions and other legacy issues, saying that at "no time since 1998 has there been any concerted or sustained attempt on the part of the Irish state to pursue a criminal investigation and prosecution based approach to the past". 

Heaton-Harris added: "While this step is disappointing, it is one for which the UK Government was prepared.

"The UK Government remains confident that the Act provides a robust and effective framework to allow the ICRIR to discharge our legal obligations.

"We will continue robustly to defend the legislation, including to ensure that the work of the ICRIR can continue without impediment while proceedings are ongoing."