Taoiseach: AG's proposal would be difficult for families in the North

Taoiseach: AG's proposal would be difficult for families in the North

Political leaders in Ireland and the UK have today appeared to reject a proposal by the North’s attorney general to end prosecutions in conflict-related cases.

John Larkin QC, the chief legal adviser to the Stormont Executive, said he also favoured ruling out further inquests and other state investigations into the crimes committed during the 30-year conflict.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he respected the AG's view but warned that it would be hard for victims and their families to accept.

"The question of the past is difficult, because it is dealing with victims in on all sides of the atrocities," Mr Kenny said.

"I don't think it would be helpful of me to comment on the personal submission made by the Attorney General in Northern Ireland, who is in statutory office, and I have to respect his views in this context.

"I think it would be difficult for families on either side of the dark time in Northern Ireland if you were to follow, for instance, that advice and put in place what the Attorney General recommended."

Mr Kenny said the debate surrounding the AG's views must take into account the possibility of developments in forensic science.

"If you were to find subsequently incontrovertible DNA evidence of the involvement of person or persons in the killing on either side," he said.

"Families want closure, but there's always that yearning to find out what happened, who gave the instructions, why was this done?"

British Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons it would be "rather dangerous" to block possible future prosecutions.

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Cameron said: "I do think it's important to allow Richard Haass to do his work about parades, about flags, and about dealing with the past.

"Clearly the dealing with the past part is the most difficult of the three and the most difficult to unlock.

"The second point I would make is that we are all democrats who believe in the rule of law, who believe in the independence of the police and prosecuting authorities, and they should if they are able to, be able to bring cases.

"I think it's rather dangerous to think that you can put some sort of block on that.

"But of course we are all interested in ways in which people can reconcile and come to terms with the bloody past, so that they can build a viable future and a shared future for Northern Ireland."

Earlier, when asked at a regular Westminster media briefing whether the British government would back the proposal to end prosecution of crimes from the Troubles, David Cameron's official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister's view is that the decisions around prosecutions are for the police and prosecuting authorities, based on the evidence that they have.

"His view is a long-standing one, that where relevant independent authorities have evidence, they should be able to take that forward in the way that they best judge.

"That remains his view. There is no change in that."

Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said the needs of the victims and their families had to be the priority in dealing with historic cases.

"I think, when you are talking about what happened in the past, I think our first priority has got to be the victims and their families," he said.

"There is already an agreed way for dealing with pre-'98 cases. I have not yet heard a convincing argument for changing that.

"I think the wider issue for dealing with the past, I think we have to do that in the context of Haass (talks) and I think that is the place where this needs to be discussed, where we get an overall framework for dealing with issues of the past but one which puts the victims and their families and those who are traumatised - and there were many of them - at the centre of what needs to be done."

Minister Gilmore also said he accepted the practical difficulties in pursuing historic cases.

Kate Nash, whose brother William was killed on Bloody Sunday, today challenged Dr Haass to reject any suggestion of an amnesty.

In the unscheduled encounter in the foyer of the City Hotel in Derry, Ms Nash made clear to the former diplomat her family's opposition to the proposal.

Afterwards she explained her anger.

"What are they trying to do, draw a line under victims, draw a line under my brother? We are not going to let that happen," she said.

Ms Nash criticised the pace at which the current police probe into Bloody Sunday was progressing.

She claimed the main beneficiaries of any amnesty would be those who perpetrated state killings, as she said more evidence existed in many of those cases.

"How can there be an amnesty for murder?" she added.

"You've taken a person's life away, you have taken everything, look at the heartbreak left behind, then you get treated this way for almost 42 years by the justice system.

"There was no police inquiry back then as such, and then they drag you along all those years, all that campaigning, and then at the end of all that they are going to tell us 'let's draw a line under it all'? John Larkin might be able to - but has anyone of his family ever been murdered, does he know how this feels?"

Responding to Mr Larkin's comments, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said the issue of the past was much bigger than the issue of prosecutions.

Mr Adams, who insisted a wider debate on the past was needed, said that, whatever approach was taken to the legacy of the conflict, the views of victims had to be central.

"Sinn Féin first published proposals on trying to deal with the past over 10 years ago," he said.

"In recent times, with the establishment of the Haass Talks, others have increasingly been making their voices heard and putting their ideas forward. This is a good thing. Our wider society needs to have this debate.

"Today the Attorney General in the north has put forward his ideas on dealing with one aspect of this - the issue of prosecutions. He has stated a view that there should be no prosecutions, inquests or inquiries for incidents pre-the Good Friday Agreement.

"He has also said that the current position favours non-state forces. That is not the case. To all intents and purposes there is an amnesty for the British state forces and their allies.

"The British government has also broken inter-government agreements and commitments to deal with outstanding cases like the killing of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane and has refused to release files on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

"I have not had the chance to read the AG's submission but this issue is much bigger than simply the issue of prosecutions.

"Whatever mechanisms are agreed in the future, they need to be victim-centred. The views of victims must be central to any effort to deal with the legacy of the past. Their voices must be heard and respected and all victims must be treated on the basis of equality.

"As it stands, there is no single view from victims and survivors and it is unlikely that there will be one in the future. Some families seek truth, others seek a judicial process.

"Sinn Féin has proposed an Independent International Truth Recovery process. It is our view that this sort of approach offers the best way forward for victims and survivors and the best way forward for trying to deal with the legacy of the conflict and the effect it has on the political process in the here and now.

"The two Governments should facilitate this. The past cannot be an obstacle to dealing with the present or a pretext for refusing to build a new future."

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