Posted By: March 05, 2014

WHO did, didn’t or pretended not to know about the ‘letters of comfort’ giving
around 200 IRA men and women the green light to come home has dominated the news for
the last week.

That most of them were already living in plain sight, making no secret of the fact
they had returned on a promise, mattered not.

Gerry McGeough insisted a scheme of some sort was in place during his trial for the
attempted murder of former UDR man Samuel Brush. he claims he was told by Gerry
Kelly he was safe to return north several years previously. A verbal assurance worth
as much in legal terms as the one his witness, loyalist William ‘Plum’ Smith,
claimed he received from the late Mo Mowlam.

Britain’s ‘most wanted’ woman Eibhlin Glenholmes even gave an interview in 2012 to
journalist Brian Rowan stating she returned home after the Prosecution Service told
her there was “no longer a realistic prospect of achieving a conviction”.

Even if the DUP had missed all that, should the fact Sinn Fein dropped the issue
from the political agenda not set alarm bells ringing?

And so last week’s unionist outrage, although politically necessary, was about 10
years too late.

Even the claim they have achieved what they wanted in the form of a judge-led review
of the on The Run (OTR) letters should be treated with a large wink and a nudge. Had
it not been for the disclosure in the old Bailey last week following the collapse of
the John Downey trial, the three not very wise monkeys could have continued to hear
no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

What we know now about the negotiations to achieve peace, if we didn’t already, is
that they were backroom, they were dirty and they were underhand and that was just
on Tony Blair’s side.

Everyone had an agenda and they were determined to step on heads and victims if
necessary to get what they wanted.

The British government had blood on its hands in the form of trigger-happy soldiers
and RUC collusion with drug riddled loyalist gangs.

They had also been exercising an unofficial amnesty for members of the army involved
in murder for decades, soldiers convicted for the murders of Thomas Reilly (1983)
and Peter McBride (1992) were both released after serving less than three years.

While Tony Blair was working on creating a ‘legacy,’ unionists were not only making
a deal with sworn enemies but also involved in an inter party power struggle.
The DUP were trying to keep the finer points of the deal concealed from the
electorate and if that wasn’t possible were happy to pin it on the UUP.

Republicans had made a promise to the faithful that they couldn’t walk away from
‘one out all out’, and that included the ones who were never in and managed to see
out the bulk of the Troubles in rural Donegal. They also promised to seek justice
for nationalist victims, thus Gerry Adams’s letter to Tony Blair’s administration
urging that the process to clear OTRs to return home be kept “invisible”.

And so who knew what no longer is the issue but where do we go from here.

The Haass proposal for a historic Investigations Unit is no longer workable in an
environment where some potential suspects cannot be pursued because they have Royal

The current British government have tried to say the written commitments are as much
use as Peter Robinson’s resignation letter and if new evidence comes to light they
can be prosecuted.

Rubbish. Justice Sweeney – a respected long-standing old Bailey judge – read the
letter as an amnesty. His ruling sets a legal precedent.

All criminal investigations rely on modern standards of evidence gathering. Existing
evidence from the time is retested using modern DNA techniques, new witness
statements taken, ballistics of weapons used etc. Had the Downey prosecution not
been stopped, was ‘new’ evidence against him going to be produced?

We’ll never know because a senior judge ruled it wasn’t even allowed to proceed that
far due to his letter of comfort.

Not all victims want prosecutions but those that do and have attempted to get
justice for in some cases for 30 or 40 years are now further away from achieving
that goal than ever.

Loyalist spokesman Colin Halliday said last week he could quantify what the reaction
from his community would be if there were any further historic arrests.

That also goes for the nationalist community. In the mouth of an election Sinn Fein
do not want to play into the hands of the dissidents by having to answer questions
about why some IRA men are still being pursued while others farm oysters.

Regardless of the bluster of the last week when we look through the red mist, the
issue of how to deal with the past is still going to have to be dealt with.