Victims should not have the hope of justice taken away from them
I am not a victims’ campaigner. I don’t take sides. I speak only for myself.
All mothers’ tears are the same. At 73 and having lived through our Troubles with first-hand experience, I agree with MP Julian Smith when he said in the recent debate about the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill that he felt “deeply uncomfortable” by the idea of “voting for a Bill that will formalise immunity for those who have committed murder and other crimes”.
I too feel deeply uncomfortable. But more than that I feel betrayed, disrespected, devalued, re-traumatised and angry by the Government’s latest attempt at dealing with the legacy of the past.
I accept this is a complex matter. I am aware that some people here have different opinions on the definition of a victim but there is no such ambiguity about the definition of a perpetrator: A person who carries out a harmful, illegal or immoral act.
And in the context of our casually referred to ‘Troubles’ being responsible for murder or causing serious life-changing physical and emotional injuries, such an individual should never be rewarded with the honour of being his or her own judge or jury.
Perpetrators should not have the opportunity to provide a sanitised version of their truth that absolves them of their crime granting them immunity from prosecution.
This latest proposal is a perpetrator-controlled amnesty that is possibly illegal but certainly morally wrong and unacceptable in any democracy.
Imagine the outcry if Boris Johnson or Brandon Lewis announced that the person responsible for the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007 in Praia da Luz, Portugal, or the person who killed popular TV presenter Jill Dando on her doorstep in 1999 could come forward now and co-operate with the police and in doing so those perpetrators would be granted immunity. I suspect the world’s media would descend on Downing Street if such grotesque suggestions were put forward.
My brother John was one of many men and women who donned the police uniform here. He gave 12 years and his life to help uphold the law. He wasn’t wearing his uniform when he was killed. He was callously murdered on October 11, 1988 while off duty in my family’s ice cream parlour. No-one has been charged in connection with his murder.
John is not simply a statistic and a name on a faded plaque of lost lives. He was my brother. I buried my broken-hearted dad, a veteran of Dunkirk and Burma, on that same date one year after he viewed my brother’s body in the morgue and my broken-hearted mum a few years after dad.
Many will disagree with my brother’s career choice, consider he was a legitimate target and continue to gloat at his death. I don’t waste time arguing with their opinion. Many willingly donned paramilitary uniforms — they also had a choice.
Anyone who became a perpetrator in whatever guise they chose to do so should never be given any form of amnesty for the harmful, illegal or immoral act they carried out. And that should not be a selective process. No-one should be above the law.
Anyone who wore the same uniform as my brother or a military uniform and deliberately dishonoured that uniform and crossed the line to become a perpetrator should be subject to the full might of the evidential rule of law.
Similarly, anyone who chose to wear a paramilitary uniform knowing that their choice would likely lead to them becoming a perpetrator involved in murder and mayhem, then such individuals should not be afforded preferential control of a legacy bill that essentially ranks them as superior to their victims and worthy of special treatment.
I am realistic enough to realise I will probably never see justice or the complete truth so many years later.
But victims and their families should never have to see any glimmer of hope they might have for proper justice and comprehensive truth stolen from them. Replaced by a self-sanitised version of the truth revealed by a perpetrator for his or her benefit.
This is not a reconciliation bill.
It is a ‘perpetrator friendly amnesty’.
It is the latest attempt by the government to draw a line under the years of violence and sweep democracy and truth under the blood-soaked ‘Troubles’ carpet of deceit.
I accept that dealing with the Troubles legacy is a difficult and divisive subject. Others will disagree with my opinion, but I believe MPs should rethink this flawed proposal. Victims should be at the heart of any solution and yet again they have been side-lined in this Bill.
A government strategy that will ensure the Troubles wound continues to fester and never properly heal.
George Larmour is the author of They Killed The Ice Cream Man (Colourpoint)