Relatives shouldn’t be strong-armed into ‘closure’
So that’s it then, is it?
The Tory government has decided that we must forget about the Troubles, and all the horrific things that happened, so that we can go forward, happily hand in hand, to a bright new future.
Forget about justice. Forget about truth. Silly little things like that don’t matter.
Under the proposed new statute of limitations, nobody will be prosecuted for crimes committed during the Troubles. Paramilitaries, soldiers, police — all will be legally protected.
Everyone gets off the hook very nicely.
Instead, we are told, there will be a South African-style truth and reconciliation approach, which will focus on bringing communities together, rather than pursuing combatants.
Free from fear of prosecution, those involved in the conflict will be able to testify about what happened, thus supposedly giving “closure” to the families of those killed or maimed.
Not surprisingly, victims groups on both sides have reacted with strong revulsion.
Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was murdered in the IRA pub bombings in Birmingham in 1974, said that the government has lost its “moral, ethical, and judicial backbone”, having failed to have “even the common decency to discuss this with victims’ families and survivors”.
Families of the victims of the Ballymurphy massacre in 1971 said: “we see this as the British government’s cynical attempt to bring in an amnesty and a plan to bury its war crimes.”
What revolts me most about the proposal is the way it’s been dressed up as a wonderful chance for us all to understand one another better.
Do the Tories think we are utterly stupid? Or do they just not care?
Last weekend, ahead of the Prime Minister’s announcement, the Conservative MP Julian Lewis was sent out as the advance guard and chief cheerleader. Mr Lewis, who’s also the former chairman of the Commons defence committee, hailed it as “a bold proposal for a thriving Northern Ireland”.
He said the statute of limitations would allow NI to take its “next big step forward towards lasting peace and prosperity and achieving its full and indisputable potential at the heart of our United Kingdom.”
What bombastic, patronising guff. You don’t strong-arm trauma victims into closure, against their will, just because you’ve decided it’s now time to move on. That’s not how it works.
Mr Lewis insisted that the end of Troubles-related prosecutions won’t be an amnesty, because there is no pardon involved. Mere semantics. If you don’t prosecute people for crimes they committed and allow them to get off scot free, that’s an amnesty in all but name.
But then he said something much more revealing.
According to Mr Lewis, the plan “does not set law-breakers on the same level as the forces of law and order, any more than the fact that the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and sentencing act which followed it — limiting prison sentences arising out of the Troubles — already does.”
And there, at last, you have the truth.
We have already done the dirty deal. We have already made the repugnant moral compromise, long ago, by voting the supporters of terrorism into government. The IRA successfully bombed and shot their way to the negotiating table, and then we gave our approval to their political representatives taking power, via the Good Friday Agreement.
Old-fashioned liberal lefties like me aren’t supposed to say this stuff. It makes me feel like Jim Allister, and that pains me. But it’s what happened, along with a whole other mess of corruption, collusion and cover-ups. All so-called “combatants”, including the British state, are tainted by the squalor.
This is why Stormont cannot succeed, in its current form. It is a structurally sectarian system, built on rotten foundations. There has been no contrition, no generosity, no imagination, no openness, no understanding, above all no honesty — none of the vital ingredients that a real peace process should contain.
There can’t be, because we have never cleaned out the wound.
Don’t get me wrong. I voted for the Good Friday Agreement, with my newborn baby daughter in my arms. All I wanted was for the violence to stop, so that the children could have a future.
But let’s not pretend that it was anything but an abdication of basic moral principles of right and wrong.
And so is this abhorrent plan for a Troubles amnesty.
Nobody underestimates the increasing difficulty of getting cases to court, let alone securing convictions. But forcibly drawing a “clear, unbreakable line” under the crimes of the past punishes the victims, not the perpetrators.
Is that the kind of peace we want?