Belfast Telegraph

Amnesty for soldiers a betrayal of all victims

Editor's Viewpoint

It was supposed to be a meeting between Northern Ireland's two main political parties and the Prime Minister to breathe fresh air into the stalled talks on restoring devolution.

Instead, it ended up with controversy, claims of bad faith on the part of the Government and a new potential red line in a process already bedevilled by seemingly irreconcilable demands.

The emergence of a potential amnesty for soldiers for offences committed during the Troubles was always bound to raise the hackles of Sinn Fein and, true to form, Gerry Adams accused the Government of bad faith in raising the issue without first consulting his party or the Irish government.

Government spokespersons were later keen to stress that the preferred position remains the terms agreed during the Stormont House discussions a couple of years ago, which made no mention of a statute of limitations - effectively an amnesty - and that the suggestion was included in a proposed consultation document as a new way of dealing with the legacy of the past.

It does not take any great insight to see why this idea has been floated. Right-wing media and a number of Tory backbenchers have been critical of moves to prosecute ageing soldiers for crimes committed during the Troubles.

They have argued - wrongly, it must be stressed - that there has been a disproportionate effort put into prosecuting former soldiers and pointed out that State forces are more open to legal action because records of their actions exist, unlike republican or loyalist terrorists.

The Irish government says the idea of an amnesty, which it opposes, does not exist in any agreement since, and including, the Good Friday Agreement.

But there is another constituency which must be considered. Those are the people bereaved by the actions of terrorists and the forces of law and order. It is inconceivable that only one group - soldiers and police - would be included in any statute of limitations for Troubles offences.

If it was broadened out to include terror organisations, then that would be drawing a line under the past. Those bereaved families still clinging the increasingly vain hope of justice or even closure for their loss would feel betrayed again.

The idea of continued investigative bodies and some kind of truth and reconciliation organisations would have to be shelved and all the secrets of the dirty war would remain just that.

Belfast Telegraph

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