Irish Examiner view: Troubles killings amnesty is alarming

British government's plan is a shocking betrayal of the families of victims and  a major setback for the peace process
Irish Examiner view: Troubles killings amnesty is alarming

Mickey McKinney speaks earlier this month to the media outside the City Hotel in Derry, with his brothers, John (left) and Joe (right) watched by solicitor Fearghal Shiels, after the prosecution of two former soldiers over three deaths during Northern Ireland's troubled past were halted. File picture

The British government’s plan to end all prosecutions for killings during the Troubles in Northern Ireland is an alarming decision. The move is intended to protect certain British military personnel. Little wonder that it was broadly welcomed by the retired British army chief, Richard Dannatt, who told the BBC that it provides “a mechanism whereby investigations can continue so that families who lost loved ones during the Troubles get to know what happened but without the fear of prosecution being held above the heads of military veterans”.

That was also the focus of prime minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons, lamenting that “there are many members of the armed services who continue to face the threat of vexatious prosecutions well into their 70s, 80s, and later, and we’re finally bringing forward a solution to this problem”. However, it has wider consequences than this as it will also apply to paramilitaries.

That means an effective amnesty for members of the IRA, Ulster Defence Association, Ulster Volunteer Force, and other paramilitaries who committed atrocities up to 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. The British Labour Party’s spokesperson on Northern Ireland, Louise Haigh, described it as “an amnesty for the republican and loyalist terrorists who tortured, maimed, disappeared, and murdered men, women, and children”.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin rightly criticised the move.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin rightly criticised the move.

The plan is also a cynical exercise. The confirmation by Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis comes almost three weeks after the Irish and British governments announced “short and focused” talks with Northern Ireland’s political parties as well as with victims and survivors of the Troubles. The talks were announced jointly by Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and the Northern Secretary after a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in Dublin last month. The stated aim was to find “an agreed way forward” on how best to deal with legacy issues.

There is not even a suspicion of agreement contained in yesterday’s announcement. The Irish Government, the five parties that make up the Stormont Executive, and victims’ groups have all said they oppose such a move, but Mr Johnson and his government hope to press ahead anyway.

The plan is a direct violation of the Good Friday Agreement in that it undermines the work of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, an intergovernmental organisation established by both governments under the agreement. The Taoiseach has rightly criticised the move. A shared commitment to peace and diplomacy requires our leaders to avoid inflammatory remarks and his statement that this was “wrong for many, many reasons” was simple, but correct. Mr Coveney, too, has said the Government would oppose any unilateral move. He repeated that assertion after the announcement, saying that Mr Lewis had told him in advance that he would be making a policy statement, rather than a draft piece of legislation. The reality is that it is a clear statement of intent by the British government.

It is, first and foremost, a shocking betrayal of the families of victims but it is also a major setback for the peace process.

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