Belfast Telegraph

Can we draw line under Troubles murders like Attorney General John Larkin suggests?

Editor's Viewpoint

John Larkin's proposal that all prosecutions, inquests and public inquiries into offences committed during the Troubles should be halted is, quite simply, breathtaking.

He is the Attorney General, the most senior law officer in the land and the legal adviser to the Office of the First and deputy First Minister.

His professional career is based on ensuring that the rule of law should prevail in every aspect of life.

For him now to exclude a very controversial and painful part of our history is astonishing.

This newspaper has had issues with Mr Larkin in the past.

We feel that his role may be slightly ill-defined and that some of his interventions have been unwise.

However, we have never doubted his intellect and he certainly brings all of that rigour to his proposal.

He admits that he has discussed his ideas with Dr Richard Haass, part of whose writ during his present talks in Northern Ireland concern how we should deal with the past.

What is not clear is whether Mr Larkin has run his proposals past the First or deputy First Minister or whether he is acting unilaterally and without their sanction, not that it would be required.

Whatever the genesis of his proposal, we feel that it is a necessary and stimulating intervention on a subject which politicians are forever exercised about, but seem powerless to resolve in any meaningful way.

But can simply drawing a line under the past really be practical?

There are a significant number of relatives of those killed during the Troubles who simply want to know what happened to their loved ones, who was responsible for their deaths and why they were targeted.

There is an equally significant number who desperately want those responsible for their bereavement to face the full force of the law and that is entirely understandable.

Mr Larkin's argument is that every passing year makes any prosecution more and more unlikely and that even if the guilty party is identified and convicted the maximum sentence would be two years in jail, even for murder. There is undeniable logic in his contention that bereaved relatives will not get their desired justice whatever the outcome of investigations.

But will his proposal that the state hand over all the information possible on terrorist and state killings to bereaved families be sufficient to void those families' demands for prosecutions?

Will there be a demand for terrorists to be similarly forthcoming in admitting their guilt or complicity in deaths as some hybrid South African-style truth commission? If they don't do so voluntarily will the threat of prosecution remain until they do so?

However, unlike the doomed Eames-Bradley blueprint for dealing with the past, Mr Larkin's intervention should not be dismissed and allowed to wither on the vine.

It should be debated rationally, perhaps even put to a referendum.

There are obvious problems. Would Dublin and London sign up to the required special legislation, even if Stormont was persuaded to do so?

But unless we, like Mr Larkin, dare to think the unthinkable, the legacy of the past will remain a festering sore, picked at piecemeal for generations and preventing real healing.

Belfast Telegraph

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