Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

'End Troubles prosecutions' says former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain

Peter Hain has called for an end to Northern Ireland conflict prosecutions
Peter Hain has called for an end to Northern Ireland conflict prosecutions

Peter Hain has called for an end to Northern Ireland conflict prosecutions.

No-one would be pursued for 3,000 unsolved murders during decades of trouble before the 1998 peace agreement.

The former Northern Ireland Secretary suggested a special judicial process whereby cases would come before a judge and those felt to be responsible could ask for the matter to be considered and then be released on licence.

It would be "even handed", applying to soldiers like those who carried out the Bloody Sunday killing of unarmed civilians in Londonderry in 1972 as well as former republican and loyalist paramilitaries, Mr Hain said.

He added: "That may be a way of getting closure for victims.

"What is certain about the current situation is that victims won't get closure or justice in the vast majority of these cases because the evidence is often impossible to establish as the events happened too long ago."

Mr Hain attempted to resolve the issue through Parliament in 2005 but the legislation was never enacted.

He said it was not a matter for the British Government but had to be addressed by leaders of Northern Ireland's devolved assembly.

The senior Labour MP, who represents Neath, said he had every sympathy with victims.

But he added: "Northern Ireland can stay trapped in its past of horror, with its eyes constantly looking over its shoulders, allowing the past to stalk it, or looking forward to the future."

The Prime Minister has said he does not support the idea of amnesties.

Mr Hain made his comments ahead of the start of the first state visit to Britain by Irish President Michael D Higgins. The MP was Northern Ireland Secretary from 2005 to 2007.

He said: "I think there should be an end to all conflict-related prosecutions. That should apply to cases pre-dating the Good Friday Agreement in 1998."

As part of the 1998 agreement anybody convicted of paramilitary crimes was eligible for early release. It was one of the most controversial aspects of the blueprint, which was endorsed in referendums by people in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The provision did not cover those suspected of committing crimes during the troubles nor those who were charged or convicted but had escaped from prison.

It emerged during the trial of John Downey, accused of murdering four soldiers during the Hyde Park bombing in 1982, that almost 200 Irish republicans who believed they may be on the run from justice had received letters of assurance that they were not wanted by police for crimes committed before 1998.

It did not rule out prosecutions if more evidence emerged in future but angered unionists who branded the administrative scheme an amnesty.

Mr Hain's Labour Government was in power at the time many of these letters were delivered.

Downing Street has ordered a review, chaired by Lady Justice Hallett, into the Government's administrative scheme.

Mr Hain has already said soldiers involved in the Bloody Sunday killings should not face prosecution.

A total of 14 civil rights demonstrators died after paratroopers opened fire in Northern Ireland's second largest city in January 1972.

John Larkin, Northern Ireland attorney general, has also said there should be an end to troubles prosecutions, police investigations, inquests or inquiries involving all paramilitaries, police officers and soldiers.

 

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