An alarming development

Posted By: November 22, 2017

Irish News Editorial. Belfast. Monday, November 22, 2017.

Confirmation that a potential amnesty for security-force members is to be included for consultation in the Stormont House Agreement is an alarming development which will cause deep disquiet among the families of victims.

Relatives expressed understandable anger earlier this year when the Westminster defense committee called for a statute of limitations on prosecuting soldiers who served during the Troubles.

It was a move that was heavily supported by members of the Conservative Party as well as the DUP but it was a call that also raised serious questions about the rule of law and the wider repercussions for soldiers guilty of wrongdoing.

It is difficult for the government to insist that no-one is above the law if an effective amnesty is in place for members of the military who kill or injure unarmed civilians on the streets of Belfast, Derry or anywhere else.

Once again, it is the victims who are the losers in terms of their entitlement to justice.

Time and again relatives have come up against delays, obstruction, obfuscation and an unwillingness on the part of the authorities to approach legacy cases from the perspective of those who have suffered the most.

So many murders were inadequately investigated at the time, with families left without information or the prospect of a successful prosecution.

It is a failing that still needs to be addressed but even securing funding for legacy inquests has proved exceptionally difficult, despite repeated requests from the lord chief justice and other senior figures.

Meanwhile, people who have lost loved ones or who have been subjected to appalling injuries and trauma had to watch as those convicted of terrible crimes were freed from prison as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

The early release scheme was regarded as an important step on the journey towards a stable and peaceful society but it should not be underestimated just how painful that particular measure was for so many families.

It should also be noted that the small number of soldiers convicted of murder in Northern Ireland served relatively short jail terms before returning to the army.

Bereaved families are entitled to feel that there has been a considerable imbalance in the process to date and the scales are definitely not tilted in favor of the victims, as they should be.

This latest proposal on a statute of limitations for soldiers will add to the sense that the genuine concerns of the victims and relatives are not being heard by the British government and are certainly not a priority.

James Brokenshire must know that putting forward such a plan will have serious implications in Northern Ireland and will not help efforts to progress the restoration of the executive.