Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Attorney General John Larkin: It's time to call halt to all Troubles cases

EXCLUSIVE: Law chief in remarkable intervention on drawing a line under the past

Attorney General John Larkin outlined his radical proposals to deal with the past in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph.
Attorney General John Larkin outlined his radical proposals to deal with the past in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph.
The body of Jackie Duddy is carried away, led by the crouched figure of Fr Edward Daly carrying a bloodstained hankerchief, on Bloody Sunday
The scene at Oxford Street Bus Station on Bloody Friday, 1972.

Northern Ireland's law chief has called for an end to all prosecutions, inquests and public inquiries linked to the Troubles.

Attorney General John Larkin said there should be a halt to all probes into offences carried out before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The radical proposals on dealing with the thorny issue of the past carry considerable weight because Mr Larkin is the Executive's top legal adviser, and also has a statutory duty to act as guardian of the rule of law.

The Attorney General said he believes Government papers should be released to victims of violence and to historians, who would be protected from libel claims if reported in good faith.

"We need to bring to an end the prospect of inquests with respect to Troubles-related deaths," he said in a rare interview.

"No more inquests and no more prosecutions with respect to Troubles-related deaths. Going hand in hand with that would be a commitment to developing ways in which access to State records can be facilitated consistently with the safety of individuals."

Mr Larkin insisted that his proposals did not amount to an amnesty because existing Troubles-era convictions would stand.

No more probes, no more trials, no more inquests

Mr Larkin outlined his radical proposals to deal with the past in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph.

He confirmed that he met Richard Haass, who is conducting a review of how we deal with the past, to discuss his ideas.

There would be no further police or legal investigation of any events prior to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998.

"What I am saying is take the lawyers out of it. I think lawyers are very good at solving practical problems in the here and now, but lawyers aren't good at historical research," Mr Larkin said.

"The people who should be getting history right are historians, so in terms of recent history, the people who are making the greatest contribution are often journalists."

He said the measures he was advocating would need legislation in London and probably Dublin, not just Stormont, because "the theatre of the Troubles extends beyond this jurisdiction".

Mr Larkin advocates that, with the threat of prosecutions and suing removed, the State could start releasing more information under a system which he called "freedom of information plus".

This would allow victims and researchers to apply for the release of information from State archives about particular events. There would be some safeguards, but the papers might make it clear who was suspected of murders and attacks.

Researchers who reported their findings in good faith would then be protected from libel. People would also be prevented from taking civil actions for damages about events during the Troubles. This would immediately halt a number of planned actions for damages against the State for collusion or negligence in pre-1998 attacks.

He believes the present system of inquests into historic cases is loaded against the State and is far less effective in holding "non- State actors" like paramilitary groups to account.

He argues the prospects of getting any prosecutions for pre-1998 Troubles offences is becoming more remote. He explained: "It is subject to a law of diminishing returns. With each year, the number of cases which can be pursued becomes less numerically significant compared to the large number of unsolved cases."

Cases that could be affected

1972: BLOODY SUNDAY

On January 30, 1972 paratroopers opened fire on civil rights marchers in the Bogside area of Derry.

Thirteen males, including seven teenagers, died instantly or soon after. Fourteen others were wounded, including John Johnston, who died four-and-a-half months later from his injuries.

In 2010 a lengthy inquiry by Lord Saville concluded that the victims were unarmed, rendering their deaths "unjustified and unjustifiable".

Last month it was reported that up to 20 retired British soldiers could face being arrested for murder in connection with the shootings.

1972: MURDER OF JEAN MCCONVILLE

Mother-of-10 Jean McConville was abducted and murdered by the IRA in 1972 and secretly buried in the Republic.

Her remains were found at a beach in Co Louth in 2003.

It was claimed she was killed after giving aid to a wounded British soldier, but the IRA subsequently alleged she had been passing information on republican activities to security forces – a claim strongly denied by her family.

Tapes from now deceased IRA man Brendan Hughes accused Gerry Adams of ordering Mrs McConville's murder – an allegation the Sinn Féin president denies.

1976: KINGSMILLS MASSACRE

The Kingsmills massacre took place in January 1976 in south Armagh.

Textile factory workers were travelling in a minibus along the Whitecross to Bessbrook Road in the rural area when their vehicle was ambushed by up to a dozen gunmen.

Richard Hughes, the only Catholic, was ordered to leave the area while 11 of his Protestant work colleagues were gunned down.

Alan Black was shot 18 times, but survived the attack.

To date, no one has been brought to justice for the atrocity.

1992: MURDERS OF JACK AND KEVIN MCKEARNEY

Kevin McKearney, a father-of-four, was working behind the counter of his butchers shop in Moy on January 3, 1992, when a gunman walked in a shot him several times.

His 68-year-old uncle John McKearney – known as Jack – was shot and seriously wounded in the attack.

He was taken to hospital but died from his injuries three months later.

The murders took place two weeks after a Protestant was shot dead by republican paramilitaries at his family's shop in the Co Tyrone village.

1992: TEEBANE ambush

A roadside bomb at Teebane crossroads destroyed a van carrying 14 construction workers who had been repairing an Army base in Omagh.

The blast on January 17, 1992, was heard up to 10 miles away. It ripped through one side of the van, while its upper section was ripped apart.

Eight of the men were killed and the rest were wounded.

The IRA claimed responsibility, saying the workers were killed because they were "collaborating" with the "forces of occupation".e Loyalist gunmen opened fire as villagers watched the Republic of Ireland's 1-0 win over Italy in the World Cup at the Heights Bar in Loughinisland in June 1994.

1994: LOUGHINISLAND MASSACRE

The dead included 87-year-old Barney Greene, one of the oldest victims of the Troubles.

Allegations persist that RUC informers were linked to the massacre and that police protected them by destroying evidence and failing to carry out a proper investigation.

In 2008 it emerged that since the shootings up to 20 people had been arrested for questioning, but none had ever been charged.

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