Belfast Telegraph

Victims' families need closure

Editor's Viewpoint

The on-the-runs letter scheme has been rightly slated in the strongest possible terms by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee which said it had damaged the integrity of the criminal justice system. They should have added that it demonstrated once again that expediency rather than principle is sometimes the motivating force in politics.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said the OTR letters were necessary to save the peace process, but they have done untold damage to public confidence in justice and in politics. And furthermore they have shown a contempt for the victims of terrorism. The only people to get comfort from these letters were suspected terrorists. Now we learn that 95 of those who received such letters are linked by intelligence to almost 300 murders. That is appalling.

The Secretary of State Theresa Villiers says that the letters can no longer be relied on if there is evidence which could lead to the prosecution of a recipient. But she cannot guarantee that suspects will not evade justice.

As the row over the OTR letters rumbles on, we also learn that Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly received a royal pardon for his terrorist crimes. That was a procedural process to enable him to be extradited from Holland on charges of escaping from the Maze prison. However, another 364 royal pardons were issued between 1979 and 2002. Most are said to be non-terrorism-related. There is no reason why those names should be kept secret.

What we still need in Northern Ireland is some sort of truth recovery system to take into account the fact that almost 3,000 murders during the Troubles remain unsolved. The people bereaved by those killings deserve to get the fullest possible information about their loved ones' deaths. They may never get justice in the accepted sense - even if the killers were convicted they would serve only two years in jail under the Good Friday Agreement - but they could perhaps get closure.

The South African model of truth recovery where whose involved in all sides of the terrorist campaign there had to admit their crimes in order to gain an amnesty might also work here. The hundreds of killers currently walking free here would have to accept that they could be prosecuted unless they gave evidence to such a tribunal.

They may hope memory of their crimes will wither with age but unless the bereaved get some recognition of their pain, it will pass down the generations, poisoning society.

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