Show me the way to go home…

ON the other side of the debate over the free return of paramilitary fugitives to Ireland, Gerry Adams – partially – opens the door to those exiled by the IRA. While Adams says the IRA as an organisation poses no threat to people on the run from them, does that mean no threat exists at all? Now that the IRA has been ordered to cease its activity, Adams can more plausibly argue that it is not/no longer in his gift to prevent individuals from the republican community presenting a threat to returning exiles.

This is because some of those exiled have been expelled from NI because they committed sickening crimes, and feelings that Adams has no control over still run deep. They shouldn’t, but revenge is a powerful motivation. The reason those alleged criminals aren’t in prison is because the legitimacy of British courts is not recognised by republicanism, so it was dealt with ‘internally’. Republicans also argue that many criminals and people guilty of anti-social behaviour have been recruited as informers and allowed to continue to torment their community with impunity.

That does not absolve Sinn Fein from doing anything other than issuing a single mealy-mouthed statement on the entire issue, one which will be contrasted with its position on OTRs.

There’s little doubt this has happened, even if the true extent is unknown. But there have been occasions where mainstream republicanism got it spectacularly wrong, acted brutally out of all proportion to the alleged crime, or allowed personal feuds to colour judgment.

Exiles are not a homogenous group. They have been forced out of NI for a wide variety of reasons; from those who have been kicked out for horrific crimes (‘joyriding’ causing death, for example, rape, murder, persistent theft, burglary…), others have been kicked out under the catch-all ‘anti-social behaviour’ category, which seems to include sticking two fingers up to the Provos.

Instead of Adams’s rather general statement, would Martin McGuinness be prepared, for example, to issue a statement stating that Joseph McCloskey has nothing to fear from IRA members and is free to return to his home city of Derry? Would he then stand shoulder to shoulder with Joe in front of TV cameras saying that he will not stand for any abuse of his human rights, any violence or hostility towards him, and welcome him home? SF can’t prevent an individual taking the law into their own hands, but it can send out a powerful signal that it no longer tolerates vigilante justice – not always easy.

What bout those who were actually guilty of criminality, as opposed to those who merely pissed off the ‘RA? Their alleged crimes will have varied from the minor to the very serious, so some form of arbitration is called for over the nature of the return of genuine criminals.

Sinn Fein says they should contact the community.

Taking it at face value, there is a point here – if there is an absence of process that takes the exiles’ native community into consideration, there is nothing to stop them coming into contact with those they are accused of having wronged. They could potentially place themselves or their victims in further danger. In a place where walking down the ‘wrong’ street in the ‘wrong’ football shirt can have disastrous consequences, what chance someone accused of, say, rape or murder – whether the allegation was true or not, and whether it could be proven or not?

Ideally, those exiles guilty of crimes should return without fear of harm from the IRA and face the consequences of their illegal actions through due legal process, preferably one that commands cross-community support and, importantly, meets international standards of justice – which I’m not convinced SF or Labour are particularly interested in. If the ‘due process’ being formulated by SF and the British Government in relation to the parallel issue of OTRs is anything to go by, human rights challenges in Europe could eventually emerge.

Equally, those guilty of alleged ‘crimes’ against the republican movement should face no threat from its members. And crucially, the police and courts will have to demonstrate they can transparently abide by the high standards they set themselves.

Naturally, none of this will happen, and confusion reigns.

The State looks stupid for allowing fugitive terrorist suspects home without having to face a prison sentence, but not those the terrorists threw out of the country. SF backs human rights, yet this is the first time Gerry Adams has ever raised the subject with a view to exiles returning, yet his statement is deeply ambiguous and non-commital.

So the questions are really; who decides who comes back, and in what circumstances? Is it ‘the community’, the (British) courts, or restorative justice groups? What rules, laws and safeguards are there, whoever ends up acting as judge and jury? How on earth are they held accountable?

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Meanwhile, in other slightly-related news Eileen Calder of the Rape Crisis Centre doesn’t think Community Restorative Justice is capable of dealing with the victims of serious sexual assaults.