Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: The trouble with finding the truth

Were loyalists and republicans offered an under-the-table amnesty by former Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam?

We will never know for sure, as she is dead, and cannot confirm or deny the claim made by leading loyalist, William Smith, that anyone involved in the conflict before the Good Friday Agreement was signed would not be pursued for prosecution. He says the authorities have reneged on the deal and that continuing police investigations into past crimes by loyalists are jeopardising the peace process.

The idea of an amnesty for members of terror gangs who killed more than 3,000 people during the Troubles is anathema to most people in |Northern Ireland. They do not want people literally to get away with murder. Indeed, with most of the murders of the Troubles still unsolved, there remains a deep yearning by many people to find out who was responsible for the deaths of their loved ones and why they were killed.

Yet, it would be naïve to assume loyalists and |republicans responsible for killings in the past are being, or will be, pursued with the full vigour of the law. It is presumed that in the negotiations leading up to the loyalist and republican ceasefires and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the question of future prosecutions came up. That, and the release of prisoners, were the key issues for loyalists and republicans.

It would be disquieting to learn the Government, or officials, offered a de facto amnesty at that time, even if desperate to cement the peace process. The only way non-prosecution of those guilty of past crimes could be countenanced would be if former terrorists agreed to take part in a truth and reconciliation process. Such a process was not on the horizon then and still seems unlikely. Are people now more ready to draw a line in the sand over past events or do they still want the truth, whatever the consequences? Essentially that is the question William Smith has posed to this society.

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