A Hard Look At Amnesty

Posted By: November 28, 2013

The NI Attorney General caused a furore by recently suggesting that all future historical court cases be ended.

Allison Morris takes a hard Look at the issue


Allison Morris.Irish News ( Belfast) Wednesday, November 27, 2013.
John Larkin, in the abrupt style we’ve now come to expect from the attorney-general, caused a furore when he suggested drawing a line in the past by bringing all further historical court cases to an end. His statement was met with outrage from those seeking – in some cases for generations – the truth about their loved ones so cruelly and needlessly taken. Northern Ireland’s conflict was dubbed ‘The Dirty War’ by journalist Martin Dillon back in 1988 when he published his book of that name.In the past 10 years we have had an avalanche of information about the extent of State involvement, cover up and collusion in the murders of civilians in northern Ireland.

This has been largely due to tenacious families, lawyers, victims campaigners and investigative journalists.

The resulting information has revealed not just a dirty war but one which was rotten to the core.

And you can be sure the revelations will continue to come thick and fast as archived documents are uncovered and people motivated either by conscience or vendetta reveal the details behind events so terrible they were intended to remain hidden forever.

We’ve had decades of work by individuals and groups uncovering the collusion involving loyalists but only recently has that been focused on the role of republicans, some whom were also informers and engaged in the killing of civilians.

When John Larkin made his end game statement you can be sure it was from an informed position.

To work out who would be receptive to this course of action you have to ask who has the most to lose from further disclosure. Remarkably, despite being directly linked to collusion, it’s not former loyalist paramilitaries.

Inquiries that should have banished loyalist leaders have done little to loosen their grip in communities where they still wield power. These include Nuala o’Loan’s revealing report into the informer-ridden Mount Vernon UVF who murdered with impunity while almost all were in the pay of the intelligence services. The review of the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane by Sir Desmond de Silva disclosed all but one of the gang who took part in the shooting were informers. Despite this the Finucane killers continue to reign over their little fiefdoms in Belfast’s Shankill Road.

More recently is the book by Anne Cadwallader, Lethal Allies, which investigated the Glenanne gang who were double jobbing as members of the UDR and murdering UVF gunmen.

Loyalists simply viewed themselves as an extension of the state, and why wouldn’t they when that is who was paying their wage?

In reality the maximum sentence is two years in jail for pre 1998 murders and that’s the most they have to fear from further probes into the past. They have no electoral mandate to preserve.

While the attorney general caused outrage by hinting at an amnesty that’s exactly what the Good Friday Agreement was.

Those who would benefit most from Larkin’s proposal are in fact two former enemies, now ‘frenemies’ – the British state and republicans.

Sinn Fein have reacted angrily to any historic investigations into the past activity of party members or those who have remained loyal to their political path.

And so we should treat with scepticism the public head spins at Larkin and his call for an end to criminal cases because an amnesty, albeit dressed up in a more palatable form, is on the way.

It will undoubtedly come attached to some sort of truth recovery forum which will serve as little more than a distraction for those still seeking justice.

It didn’t work to any great success in other post conflict countries and it won’t work here as one thing a truth commission cannot do is force people to actually tell the truth.

I’ve interviewed countless paramilitaries from both sides over the years but I’ve yet to meet one who has said they would be willing to stand up in a public forum and recount their past in all its bloody detail.

The idea that British politicians and army generals will confess past dirty deeds for public consumption is even less likely. Victims can only hope submissions made on their behalf to Richard Haass are carefully studied.

In the meantime those fighting for justice should make use of what avenues are still open to them to seek answers as it’s only a matter of time before doors start to shut.

An amnesty is coming. What it is called is yet to be confirmed but John Larkin was only saying what local and Westminster politicians are planning. It was his delivery and timing that were all wrong.