Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 22 November 2014

John Larkin left isolated as a chorus of fury greets his proposal to end Troubles prosecutions and inquests

Attorney General John Larkin
Attorney General John Larkin

John Larkin, the Attorney General, appeared an increasingly isolated figure last night as politicians and victims' groups lined up to reject his call for a halt to Troubles-era prosecutions and inquests.

The anger from victims was even directed at US envoy Dr Richard Haass, who is currently chairing talks on the past, when he arrived in Londonderry and was shouted at by bereaved relatives urging him not to incorporate Mr Larkin's proposals in his report.

Mr Larkin (below) sparked controversy yesterday when, in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, he proposed calling a halt to all investigations into Troubles-related offences.

As well as a halt on future prosecutions, the chief legal adviser to the Executive also advocated ruling out further inquests and inquiries into the crimes committed up to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Legislation would be required in London and Dublin to halt the investigative process. Although police bodies generally reacted positively, both governments were quick to distance themselves from the proposals.

Prime Minister David Cameron told the Commons: "We are all democrats who believe in the rule of law, who believe in the independence of the police and prosecuting authorities, and they should, if they are able to, be able to bring cases. I think it's rather dangerous to think that you can put some sort of block on that.

"The words of the Northern Ireland Attorney General are very much his own words," he added.

Eamon Gilmore, Ireland's Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, said "there is already an agreed way for dealing with pre-1998 cases. I have not yet heard a convincing argument for changing that". He called for the needs of victims to be prioritised.

However, Taoiseach Enda Kenny reserved his position, telling the Dail that he preferred to await the outcome of the oncoming Haass talks before debating the issue.

Dr Haass was said by one talks participant to be "very interested" in Mr Larkin's proposals when they were put to him last month.

Speaking in Derry, the American said "there was strong reaction across the political spectrum to what he had to say".

"My hunch is that he knew that before he said it. We will take it in to account and we will end up where we end up," he added.

Unlike Dr Haass, the local political establishment was blind-sided by yesterday morning's Belfast Telegraph, and broadcast interviews with Mr Larkin.

The DUP only got an inkling of what was planned when BBC Radio Four contacted Jeffrey Donaldson on Tuesday night to ask him if it would be available to comment at 8am yesterday.

The only local political party to support Mr Larkin was NI21, the moderate pro-Union group, which made similar comments at its own conference last weekend.

Peter Hain, the former Secretary of State, provided an unexpected source of political support for Mr Larkin's proposals, given that he was highly critical of Mr Larkin in the past.

Strongest support came from the police, who have long been arguing that attempting to investigate the past is getting in the way of policing the present.

"We welcome the debate in to how we deal with the past and will study carefully what the Attorney General has said," said PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott.

Terry Spence of the Police Federation felt the proposals were worthy of consideration.

Dame Nuala O'Loan, the former Police Ombudsman who is reviewing some PSNI investigations into collusion, clashed with Mr Larkin.

She and Richard Harvey, a QUB academic, said that introducing such measures would breach international law and might put the UK in breach of its obligations under the Treaty of Rome. However, Mr Larkin argued that the UK only acceded to the treaty in 2002 and this meant that it would not affect offences committed before that date.

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