AG’s Statement: “Would any of the parties to the Troubles be candid about their part in killing?”

Here’s Malachi O’Doherty on the core flaws of the Attorney General’s idea of suspending the justice process because its currently being put under unbearable strain:

In the first instance, it is a shocking idea. There are still measures in place for restitution for people who suffered, or were robbed, during the Second World War, which ended nearly 70 years ago.

Old Nazis are still pursued and jailed; stolen artworks are recovered and efforts are made to return them to their rightful owners. Making the moral case for a different approach in Northern Ireland will be difficult. What was so different about the Troubles – some call it a war – that even legal redress should be withdrawn from victims? Only that political stability seems impossible until the past is put to rest.

We know how strongly the victims’ families yearn for justice. The campaigns by those bereaved by the McGurk’s Bar bomb, the Shankill bomb, the Loughinisland shootings, the Glenanne Gang – all of them want redress of some kind.

Some give up, of course. Some victims try to put the whole thing out of their minds. But others hang in there with a tenacity that cannot easily be silenced.

What are we going to give them instead of justice? What would they accept to assuage the affront and insult they would see implied by this measure?

The prospect of full disclosure would be something. But who can promise they would get that? Would any of the parties to the Troubles be candid about their part in killing?

That is, at the very best, a pig in a poke.

The system is hard pressed hard, and most of that pressure is flowing in the direction of the state. But at some stage we have to believe the judicial system (a crucial part of any free democracy) is resilient enough to take it.

As we head into an uncertain and hopefully peaceful future, law and order must begin to take more of a centre stage in building societal trust across communities than it has either during in the conflict or the earlier years of the peace process.

The AG may not be proposing a protected species status for certain individuals, but there are some in Northern Ireland who would rather not to make a distinction between the political and judicial systems. The time to make a deal like this was back in the Belfast Agreement.

Making it now would not alone deny victims a possible moment of reckoning, it also makes fuzzy a line (which separates the courts from elected officials) that ought to remind us that they don’t have total power over us as individuals.

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  • Occasional Commentator

    The proposal from Larkin, in my own humble opinion, creates an absolute hierarchy of victims, with everyone pre-1998 being effectively forgotten about.

    On another note, I was reading an article posted on another blog site about this same subject, and John Larkin was referred to as being from a staunch Irish republican background. Is this true? I thought his past was as a member of the Alliance party..

  • BarneyT

    I suppose the first thing we have to agree on is who the players were.

  • sean treacy

    Malachy only seems to have heard of The Glenanne gang very recently .Never heard him mentioning them during the conflict when he and his ilk were dismissing collusion as”provo propaganda”.

  • Greenflag

    Forgive and forget and move on, and try not to let the same (troubles ) happen again . This debate has been going on for decades more or less and it’s unlikely that all or any of the victims will see all the guilty brought to justice .

    Theres no perfect justice -never was- and never will be . The authorities have probably done the best they can given the political limitations and the passage of time .

    Best for all parties to help build a less confrontational future thus ensuring no repeat of the past . Thats probably the best memorial for all the innocent victims of the NI conflict..

  • aquifer

    What the AG proposes may make sense when there are parties to the conflict who are resolved never to tell the whole truth about killings, while trying to hold others to higher standards.

    Hard on the victims, but the chance of them getting a successful prosecution is now vanishingly small.

    The living still need the active protection of the law and resources are needed for that.

  • Alias

    You know it is a vulgar little statelet when its highest law officer is proposing that the judicial system should be closed to thousands of people seeking justice for their loved ones. The moral order is well and truly inverted.

    Here we have the victims of the state-sponsored gangs presented as the enemies of peace as though their humble (and long ignored) request for justice marks them out as dissidents.

  • aquifer

    For the IRA conspiracy to murder was the rule not the exception.

    With orders to say nothing to the law.

    How do we get justice, intern them and let the truth ooze out over time?

    Insist that British Intelligence say all they think they know so far, with a moratorium on libel cases?

  • “There are still measures in place for restitution for people who suffered, or were robbed, during the Second World War, which ended nearly 70 years ago.

    Old Nazis are still pursued and jailed; stolen artworks are recovered and efforts are made to return them to their rightful owners. Making the moral case for a different approach in Northern Ireland will be difficult.”

    @Mick,

    To answer your question posed just after this quote, what was so different in NI was the quality of the victory. In WWII there was an unconditional surrender by both parts of the Axis powers. After the war there was a series of war crimes trials that were aimed only against the defeated Axis powers and not against either the Western allies or the erstwhile Axis allies in the Soviet Union. So even there justice was tainted by political considerations. Stalin was never tried for his invasion of Poland.

    In NI the victory was very conditional: both the Republicans and the loyalists seem to deny that there was a victory at all. In the peace process London and Dublin suddenly abandoned the pretense that terrorism was a purely criminal matter and approached it as a conflict with the prisoners released as security prisoners/prisoners of war. Considering that two of the three sides to the conflict had very little institutional character it will mean that claims against them will be relatively unenforceable, which leads in turn automatically to a hierarchy of victims. In the case of Nazi Germany, the new democratic Germany assumed responsibility for paying off claims against the Nazis. Who will pay off claims against the various republican and loyalist paramilitaries?

  • Occasional,

    According to Wiki he was briefly in Alliance in the early 1980s before his legal career took off.

  • Mick Fealty

    Okay, let’s consider this for a moment as a cautionary pause in the current action of the play?

    – One, it raises a serious problem, ie the degree to which the judicial system is being choked with cases in a whole series of one way actions against the state for past (in)actions.

    – Two, in offering a self evidently imperfect solution the AG exposes the weak end of a difficult choice (and which Malachi leapt upon straight away) is the untrustworthiness of those who are likely to their benefits and run.

    If there’s a utility in surfacing both this issues at once, it may simply be that we are confronted with the fact of a broad campaign seeking redress from the state of a large number of cases, which finds (oddly perhaps) match from victims of anti state violence.

    Norman Tebbitt raised this issue in a lengthy interview with Peter Hennessy on Radio Four on Sunday last…

    The lack of judicial inquiry into tracing those with responsibility for past atrocities is in part a matter of choice, not necessarily because of the lack of evidence trails. The McConville case is not subject to any agreement not to investigate or prosecute in cases where the IRA/others played a significant role in the recovery of the bodies.

    A successful outcome in such a case would make for interesting viewing.

    And Tebbitt seems to be talking about a civil inquiry, which could get involved in determining exactly who or what is liable to pay damages to victims.

  • Mick Fealty

    tmitch,

    Who will pay off claims against the various republican and loyalist paramilitaries?

    That’s a very open question, and one that might eventually get settled as a result of some expeditionary activism through the courts.

  • Occasional Commentator

    tmitch, well then, I hope for David Vance’s sake that his blog doesn’t come to the attention of the office of the AG… trying to tarnish him as a rabid republican could have legal implications.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I thought SF were rolling in it … I don’t see why they can’t be sued by IRA victims. It’s certainly not right for them to have any kind of money left, given what they they and their Loyalist counterparts did. Shouldn’t they be paying anything they have back?
    If not, perhaps damages recovery could be instigated as part of the next phase of the peace process. Or I’d be for state seizure and redistribution of their assets to victims. It is one of the outstanding wrongs of the Troubles that many paramilitaries on both sides have received decent incomes in the years since, while many victim families were impoverished for good measure by losing their chief income earner.

  • @Occasional,

    Larkin strikes me as probably being an Irish Catholic name. That may have been enough for some to identify him as republican. As for Vance, if it was only someone commenting on his blog he isn’t any more responsible for the remark than Mick is for some of the venom and opinions that get expressed here.

  • Alias

    “The lack of judicial inquiry into tracing those with responsibility for past atrocities is in part a matter of choice, not necessarily because of the lack of evidence trails.”

    I would think it is almost entirely a matter of choice given the extent of the State’s infiltration of the gangs.

    The future Lord Larkin isn’t “on a solo run” here or has confused himself with a politician. The State is simply preparing the public for an outcome that was determined from Day One. If you look at this statement you can see the strategy to deny justice:

    “More than 15 years have passed since the Belfast Agreement, there have been very few prosecutions, and every competent criminal lawyer will tell you the prospects of conviction diminish, perhaps exponentially, with each passing year, so we are in a position now where I think we have to take stock.” – John Larkin

    That was the State’s strategy from the start: drag it all out for an extended period and wear down the victims, then claim that an extended period has passed which makes it impossible to deliver justice and that ‘a line needs to be drawn over the past’ and people ‘need to move on’. In this way the self-serving national interest of the British state is presented as progressive policy and real politics which is done to promote the public interest. The public, of course, have to be led to think that the denial of justice is their idea and that it came from their “debate”.

    It is significant that the PSNI is supporting Larkin’s kite:

    “We welcome the debate into how we deal with the past and will study carefully what the attorney general has said. It is well documented that the cost of policing the past has a massive impact on how we deal with the present and the future. Whilst we are committed to meeting our current legislative responsibilities, dealing with legacy issues continues to place significant pressure on our organisation and financial resources.” – Matt Baggott

    The Prime Minister and the local political hacks will tut-tut on cue but that is where they are all going.

  • Re Alias’s opinions as expressed ….21 November 2013 at 2:29 am

    You’re sounding very much like a solicitor type person trying to protect and maintain a £30 million a year nest egg for work which can bear no fruit although I suppose it does create a weird kind of employment for payment. But it is not creative or productive, is it?

    But there be many in Ulster crowded on that crazy ignorant and arrogant gravy train.

  • aquifer

    Tmitch57 thanks for this, it clarifies matters:

    “Considering that two of the three sides to the conflict had very little institutional character it will mean that claims against them will be relatively unenforceable, which leads in turn automatically to a hierarchy of victims. In the case of Nazi Germany, the new democratic Germany assumed responsibility for paying off claims against the Nazis. Who will pay off claims against the various republican and loyalist paramilitaries?”

    The shape shifting institutional character of militant Irish separatism now has them attacking the conduct of the state while keeping their own actions under the cloak of omerta.

    On the question of liability. A british government minister tried to patronise young militants engaged in a criminal murder conspiracy and ended up earning their contempt and building their confidence for a sustained campaign.

    The Brits licensed the murder gangs, they should pay the victims.

    Eames & Bradley were not wrong.

    But cash won’t cover it all.

    How about some space, some parks with trees?

  • Morpheus

    “I thought SF were rolling in it … I don’t see why they can’t be sued by IRA victims. It’s certainly not right for them to have any kind of money left, given what they they and their Loyalist counterparts did. Shouldn’t they be paying anything they have back?”

    Tony Blair took the UK into an illegal war in Iraq, should Labour be sued by the families of those killed?

    You are talking about destroying a political party with a mandate, voted in by a sizable section of the population, how democratic of you.

  • gapothenorth

    Sean Treacy’s comment about Malachi O’Doherty is unworthy begrudgery besides being factually wrong. It was not the Provos who disclosed collusion, to which they were in fact a party through their serried ranks of police informers. The term ‘Glenanne Gang’ was coined by Seamus Mallon whose public comments about collusion were being objected to at the highest levels of the British state from the mid-1970s – read the book, Sean. There you will find the interesting fact that out of the 120-odd murders committed by the gang, only one victim was a Provo activist. The question is – was someone in the security forces actually pulling the strings in the Glenanne Gang to protect Provos?

  • Barnshee

    “Tony Blair took the UK into an illegal war in Iraq, should Labour be sued by the families of those killed?

    You are talking about destroying a political party with a mandate, voted in by a sizable section of the population, how democratic of you.”

    Nope— we are talking about relieving an alleged clearly identified criminal —of some of his loot

    The individual politicians who voted with him might also be called upon to “contribute”

    The prospects of civil action with its” balance of probability test” will make sure that there is no chance of any of the “noveau riche” in SF recovering their memory

  • Greenflag

    Heres the BBC report of British undercover soldiers in civilian clothes shooting unarmed civilians in nationalist areas of Belfast at the height of the troubles.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24987465

  • BluesJazz
  • Barnshee

    “Heres the BBC report of British undercover soldiers in civilian clothes shooting unarmed civilians in nationalist areas of Belfast at the height of the troubles.”

    Some People shoot a army — army shoots back -some people get killed–which comes first the chicken or the egg?

  • Alias

    “You’re sounding very much like a solicitor type person trying to protect and maintain a £30 million a year nest egg for work which can bear no fruit although I suppose it does create a weird kind of employment for payment.”

    You’re regurgitating the propaganda fed to you by Mr Larkin when he played on public dislike of providing ‘gravy’ for lawyers as a means of growing support for his proposal to close down the judicial systems to the victims of the murder gangs:

    “What I am saying is take the lawyers out of it. I think lawyers are very good at solving practical problems in the here and now, but lawyers aren’t good at historical research. The people who should be getting history right are historians…” – John Larkin

    Notice how he also substitutes history for justice? This is more propaganda aimed at dismissing the relevancy of those actively seeking justice. It’s true that historians are best qualified to scrutinise history but it isn’t true that they are best qualified to deliver any form of justice and nor is it true that the families are long-dead historical figures.

  • foyle observer

    Blues Jazz :

    ”Richard Kemp has said the action was necessary to save lives:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/northernireland/10464305/Too-much-effort-put-into-prosecuting-British-soldiers-over-Northern-Ireland-ex-Army-chief-says.html

    Oh well that’s ok then.

    I hear the Provos said that the Birmingham Pub bombings were necessary to save lives too.

    That your position on killing of civilians is it, you disgusting individual?

  • Alias, re what is posted 21 November 2013 at 2:08 pm

    You are in delusional denial if you think that anyone is ever going to get at the whole truth and nothing but the truth and therefore will you only ever have a skewed and false incomplete view of the much bigger picture …. which you might like to consider was the US trying to destabilise the UK*, because after all, where did a great deal of terrorist funding openly come from.

    The problem with bigoted and intellectually challenged politicians and para-military types is that they cannot handle peace and have no viable vivacious imagination which can be used to create a contented society, …. and that makes them practically and virtually useless in positions of power and control today.

    And that be surely evidenced quite clearly by all that is around everyone today.

    Mr Larkin speaks clear common sense.

    * If that is too strong a view, then Uncle Sam be at least complicit in support of agents under their jurisdiction engaged in terrorist/freedom fighter funding. What other explanation can excuse such behaviour and present it as something else benign?

  • Greenflag

    Armies -British or otherwise are not supposed to kill unarmed civilians .

    They do though – Northern Ireland being just one case -Afghanistan , Iraq , the West Bank , Gaza and many other conflict zones around the world tell the same story . There was a case a couple of weeks back where three British soldiers deliberately killed an Iraqi but in this case there is/was enough evidence to charge them with murder . Trying to find evidence after 40 years in NI will from what I’m reading will be impossible for 99% or more of cases .

    Mr Larkin is speaking the truth –

    Do people want to see British Government Ministers hauled before the courts for aiding and abetting in civilian murders?

    Some may- but it is’nt going to happen .

    As for Richard Kemp stating that the action was necessary to save lives -well he would -would’nt he . But we’ll never know whether it was or was’nt will we .? A question of trust in the end and we know how that works in NI don’t we ?

    As I said above -forgive and forget and move along and leave usuns and themuns to contemplate why the NI troubles erupted in 1969 and 44 years later in 2013 the locals are still going around in circles to put the past behind them ,by dragging the past out at every opportunity so that rich lawyers can make fortunes while attempting to find the “Truth ” .

    Forgive and forget and try ffs to make sure the Troubles don’t erupt again in the meantime .

  • qwerty12345

    Having had no more than a cursory glance at the Panorama piece about British Army terrorism here in the 70’s- it does beg the question – why bother going after anyone who murdered in the past.

    If HM forces can murder unarmed civilians in cold blood and get away with it, why cant everyone else?

    And remember, wear your poppy with pride folks.

  • Alias

    “Mr Larkin speaks clear common sense.”

    He speaks for the State, and common sense has nothing to do with that.

    No doubt if your wife was raped you would not welcome an accountant telling you that it was too expensive for the State to investigate the crime and you’d do us all a big favour by asking a historian about it instead.

    What harm can it do society to bring murderers to justice? None whatsover. The harm is done when it refuses to bring them to justice.

  • Greenflag

    Alias ,

    Does that include the State’s ‘murderers ” and how high up the chain of command would justice have to go to find out who gave the order for the killing of unarmed and innocent civilians ?

    Remember you are talking about crimes from 40 years ago not last week or last year or 5 years ago. Larkin is telling it like it is -like it or not .

  • aquifer

    The paramilitaries lack ‘institutional character’ so that claims against them are likely to be ‘unenforceable’. They also still hold the truth hostage at pistol point. So claims for justice become a stick to hit the British state with, even though the Provos and loyalist gangs were much more prolific killers.

    In this small and divided place such a selective recital of the past is toxic.

    Bloody murder and conflict is not a normal state and continually picking the scab off the recent history of this small place is more likely to infect the wound than assist healing.

    Larkin is on the right track.

    Set the peelers to protecting battered wives and children.

  • Greenflag

    “Bloody murder and conflict is not a normal state and continually picking the scab off the recent history of this small place is more likely to infect the wound than assist healing.”

    Well said aquifer . It sometimes seems as if some on slugger neither want nor desire “normality” but would forever prefer to pick off scabs for eternity for the sake of an unattainable perfect justice . .Neither World War 1 with it’s 22 million dead and World War 2 with it’s 55 million dead ended up with 30 to 40 years of scab picking . People moved on . Why should NI be any different?

    ” In this small and divided place such a selective recital of the past is toxic.”

    Not just selective almost any recital of the past or commemoration of same can start a riot amongst usuns or themuns ,

    Forgive forget and move on to hopefully a better future . Other parts of the world have and they had many times more victims than NI .

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Morpheus,
    On your comment of wanting to destroy a political party with a mandate, hmmm … can’t you think of any parties you think we’d be better off without? If we could be shot of the Tories and SF, the UK would be a better place.

    Not so sure about suing Labour for Blair’s actions in Iraq, but I do actually think we should be paying reparations as a country to Iraq for the mistaken war.

    The reason SF should be sued as a party is that the crimes their wider organisation carried out were not done in government. You must admit, they are the obvious candidates when it comes to who should be compensating IRA victims. And it’s clearly morally untenable that they should prosper while their victims remain uncompensated. Surely no one would disagree with that?