was, and is, non-negotiable

Mick has already noted the withdrawal by Peter Hain of the Northern Ireland [Offences] Bill, but, in his statement today, Hain makes a point about the inclusion of any members of the security forces who might have been involved in offences that is probably worth highlighting.It relates to the issue of the inclusion of any members of the security forces who might have been involved in offences here. An inclusion that, as I recall, the official narrative previously was Hain had introduced at the last minute –

From his statement today –

“The Government could have proceeded with this Bill when the issue was first raised seven years ago. We could have done so when the Joint Declaration was made in 2003. But we did not because the IRA had not delivered on its promise to end its war. We waited until that happened.

“Every Northern Ireland Party vigorously opposed the Bill, bar Sinn Fein. Now Sinn Fein is opposed because they refused to accept that this legislation should apply to members of the security forces charged with terrorism-related offences.

“Mr Speaker, to exclude any members of the security forces who might have been involved in such offences from the provisions of the Bill would not only have been illogical, it would have been indefensible and we would not do it. Closure on the past cannot be one-sided.

“That was, and is, non-negotiable.“[emphasis added]

  • JD

    This anomale still needs to ber addressed Peter Hain admitted as much today. The Brits used this issue and insisted that legislation was required to resolve it, their real motive for legislation became clear when it was produced. It was written in such a way that it not only dealt with on the runs but it also covered Britains back on the whole collusion issue, that is what was unacceptable. The issue remains to be resolved by both governments they should revert to some of the suggested methods before this legislation came into being.

  • Pete Baker

    JD

    I highlighted the use of the past tense by Hain – “was non-negotiable” – for a reason.. I doubt that it was included unintentionally.

  • Dr Snuggles

    I imagine we’ll (eventually) see two parallel and virtually identical Bills being introduced – one to deal with terrorists and one for security personnel. That’ll keep SF happy(ish) and, in the context of restored power-sharing, will probably attract a little less controversy, given that the justified anger about the matter has been largely already vented.

    I’d guess that such a move would have to be accompanied by new provisions to acknowledge the position of victims. Slightly off-topic, the provision of short TV spots for victims to tell their stories has been mooted as part of a package of measures to enable victims’ voices to be heard. It sounds rather trite, but could provide some measure of catharsis.

  • J Kelly

    If the leglislation is now no more it will be interesting to see how many state forces are brought before the courts. Maybe the SDLP on the NIPB will initiate investigations about collusion. I will not be holding my breath on any count.

  • PB – don’t be so coy. Do you mean that Hain’s hinting that Sinn Fein agreed to this in previous negotiations? Sorry if I’m being obtuse.

  • JD

    Peter Baker,

    i agree, this was not unintentional, it was very deliberate, this legislation was never for OTRs that issue can and will be resolved by other means, it was for the British to cover their backs on collusion and other issues. There will be much more disappointment in Whitehall and the MOD than anywhere else.

  • TAFKABO

    It is clear that the establishment always intended to introduce legislation that protected security force members from prosecution.
    They simply bided their time until they could use the cover of paramilitary OTRs to do it, and in the process make it seem as if Sinn Fein were the drivers behind the moves.
    Whether or not the government proceeds with amnesties for OTRs is now irrelevant, they have announced their intentions to proceeed with amnesties for security force members.Indeed it would suit them to have two different bills, because one designed soley for security force members would breeze through the Commons.

    Sinn Fein have been played.

    Who are the naive idiots now?

  • Dr Snuggles

    In an interview with the Irish Times, published on November 29, Peter Hain said:

    “We made an agreement with the Irish government and with Sinn Fein over a period of years, and published in 2003, that we would do this and we are honouring that agreement… If you are asking me was the inclusion of members of the security forces within the bill part of the original agreement, it wasn’t. Sinn Fein had not asked for that and any attempt to suggest otherwise is simply misleading.”

    That’s pretty clear, but only as far as Sinn Fein’s demands go. It would be astonishing if Sinn Fein had actually asked for security force personnel to be included in the Bill.

    However, as to whether the Government stated an intention to include security force personnel to Sinn Fein, that is a matter that will probably remain unclear. With fresh negotiations round the corner, I doubt that either side will wish to break too many confidences about past discussions at this stage. Plausible deniability will no doubt remain the order of the day.

  • Jo

    [Edited – Moderator]

  • BogExile

    This is bizzare.

    Even the NI Police Federation objected to serving and former police officers being excluded from the normal version of due process whic obtains in this country for people who aren’t terrorists who break the law.

    If they broke the law, let them be prosecuted in the normal way.

  • Crataegus

    Bogexile

    Me thinks what worries the Government is not the Police and armed forces but what may come out during the process of the trials.

    There is nothing straight forward in any of this.

  • martin ingram

    This is a good day.

    A deal to bring closure should be everyones goal, that said not one that only considers two sides in a conflict that had many dimensions to it.

    The victims rights and expectations should be a high priority or at least placed well above those of any Security Force or Terrorist who have committed these heinous crimes.

    The Exiles will need to be included . Any deal should be the real deal, not just a section of mirrors designed to avoid the truth.

  • Alan

    Time perhaps to turn to the victims on both sides and do what they are looking for.

    Let’s have a process at whose heart is the contention that violence does not work. An opportunity for every victim or victims relative still living to say what they wish to know about the death or maiming. Start there, and then let the perpetrators own up to their involvement, and take responsibility for naming accomplices.

    Anyone who fails to step up to the line receives no pardon. All questions that are not answered remain as crimes to be solved.

    We have to say to our children what we already know in our hearts, that the violence of the troubles was wrong, it solved nothing and cost everything.

  • Ben A

    The last people any justice system should seek to consult are the victims. The scrapping of the OTR legislation is a damn fine thing, perhaps the saving grace of Hain’s godawful term as SoS. The idea that someone should have their offence against the state recognised and dismissed, in the way a hi-jinks prank might be, is terrible. A sad state of affairs that such a fudge was even being considered.

  • Seano

    Tafkabo

    “Whether or not the government proceeds with amnesties for OTRs is now irrelevant, they have announced their intentions to proceeed with amnesties for security force members.”

    Yes, the OTR legislation may now be irrelevant, but don’t bet your unionist arrogance on any security force amnesties seeing the light of day. The British govt could pass as much legislation on it as they wish, but nationalists and republicans will NEVER stop pursuing those (legally and otherwise) that committed murder for the British govt.

  • Ben A

    Seáno,

    It’s not arrogance to argue that OTR legislation is irrelevant. The government must apply objective criteria to legislation of this sort if it’s going to make it through the Parliamentary process without a civil war. The decision of nationalists and republicans to continue pursuit of proceedings against security force operatives is equally irrelevant, since it’s obviously the right thing to do.

    The fact is that nobody should be above the law or found not subject to it for reasons of political expediency. Any person, be they ex-RUC, UDR, Regulars, Loyalists, Republicans or just plain nut-jobs, who commits an offence against the laws of the jurisdiction in which they are committed, should face trial and sentencing in line with societal norms. That principle is as reasonable today as it was the day before the abominable early release legislation was proposed.

    Incidentally, on a point of logic and order, illegal pursuit of someone adjudged to have committed ‘murder’ before the fact of the case is established legally is a non-sensical concept, since any person may only be said to have convicted murder if convicted in a court of that offence.

    Round them up, try them, if guilty, chuck them in jail for tariffed sentences.

  • TAFKABO

    Seano.

    I’ll certainly plead guilty to unionist arrogance, but not on this occasion

    I would like to see everyone who has broken the law, or aided and abbetted those who have broken the law, to aknowledge their guilt and offer an apology to the bereaved families.
    However, I’m also savvy enough to have worked out that the powers that be always cover their own backs.
    In trying to look after their own with the OTRs legislation, Sinn Fein have allowed themselves to be the conduit by which the establishment announces it’s intentions to protect state forces, no matter what they have done.

    Have you any idea how ridiculous you sound when you pontificate about pursuing justice, in light of the whole OTR affair?

    If there was any political party in these islands that could be expected to harry the British state in regards to state sponsored crime, it would be Sinn Fein, and yet look what has happened.
    Can anyone from Sinn Fein expect to retain any credibility insisting state criminals be pursued after Sinn Fein representatives stood outside Downing street and praised legislation designed to cover up and protect state criminals?

    Ever get the feeling you’ve been had?

  • Dualta

    J Kelly wrote:

    “If the leglislation is now no more it will be interesting to see how many state forces are brought before the courts. Maybe the SDLP on the NIPB will initiate investigations about collusion. I will not be holding my breath on any count.”

    The best form of defence is attack, eh JK? I think the SDLP is in the lead on this issue. SF will have to do better for their constituency next time around.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    I wonder if it’s even possible for the government to pass aspects of its legislation? The Human Rights Commissioner said that the Bill could have been in breach of EU human rights law, which supercedes UK law in this respect.

    Could it have survived anyway?

    martin ingram

    A few years ago, when OTRs first entered the agenda and opposition began brewing, I suggested to a party that this issue had the potential to be as divisive as the early release of paramilitary prisoners, and that the IRA letting exiles back should be a key demand for this. It was mentioned in the Joint Declaration, but oddly, in a sentence separate from the other kinds of paramilitary activity. The Government had obviously bottled it in the talks, and backed down on linking these similar issues.

    Clearly, the OTRs was an anomoly, and had to be dealt with eventually. The question was never about whether OTRs should be allowed home, but how it was achieved.

    Shortly after Weston Park, politicians knew (no matter what Sinn Fein actually says) that Blair was keen to include members of the security forces in the Bill. SF was aware of it.

    Outside republicanism, the early release of prisoners was detested. Unionists weren’t even that keen to see loyalists on the streets again, let alone Sean Kelly.

    Many commentators concluded that the releases could have been handled much better by the Government. It was felt that too much had been given, and too little returned.

    This time, Hain has said that the OTR bill was offered in return for the IRA leaving the stage. He was – and still is – honour bound to deliver a solution to the OTR ‘problem’.

    The dilemma for the British Government is this:

    It has promised that the OTRs can return, and won’t be imprisoned.

    But, the Government does not want to be seen to be allowing (alleged) terrorists off scot-free, while its own soldiers, police and other agents still face possible imprisonment for similiar activity.

    How to square this circle…?

    One suggestion that was put to the Government years ago is that the return of paramilitary fugitives is preceded by an explicit statement from the paramilitary groups that anyone they forced out of the country was now free to return in safety.

    Each group would have to make such a statement, not just the IRA, in order to eventually benefit from an amnesty for its members.

    If the paramilitary groups declared a specific amnesty for those they exiled, it would make an amnesty for OTRs slightly more palatable.

    It might have had more symbolic than real value, but it would have indicated an acceptance by paramilitaries that they recognise that the State is better placed that a gunman to deal with crime.

    Republicans will argue that this is already in force, as the IRA statement forbids activity that is anything other than peaceful and democratic. And Gerry Adams has stated that those exiles wishing to return in the new circumstances should contact their community, should they want to come back.

    The IRA statement probably goes further than Gerry’s, but it’s true that some exiles would face as much danger from civilians as terrorists if they returned.

    Therefore, they would need the State’s co-operation to ensure they were reasonably safe. If they had left the country because they had been accused of a crime, they would automatically put in the justice system. If this included Community Restorative Justice, then there should be proper safeguards – not the proposals which currently exist. I think there’s good reason for keeping former paramilitaries out of CRJ. Would anyone feel any safer being dealt with by a former IRA prisoner any more than they’d like to be processed by a former killer cop?

    Tactically, the OTR issue has been a disaster all round from the very beginning. Whether you agree with me or not, what was described above might have been a small part of preparing the ground for something that was going to be difficult to swallow later.

    I am amazed that after years of agonising over this issue, the Government came up with a strategy that seemed destined to fail from day one.

    The collapse of the OTR bill should be a lesson to the Government, because right now, it has to go back to the drawing board.

    The only good thing I take from all this, is that if the current strategy to have everything in place by the 2007 general election fails – because OTRs delayed it – Blair will be out of office before the next Assembly is in place.

    Slap it up him, I say.

  • martin ingram

    Gonzo.

    A good piece.Fair and well argued.

    In respect to the Human Rights issue. My legal understanding is NO LEGISLATION can cover any individual who was involved in TORTURE. There is at present a case going before the courts that will in effect set legal prescedant in regards to whether the Human rights legislation can be pre dated before the enactment of the act.

    I think to a man everybody on this board agreed a process of bringing the OTR issues to ahead is required. In respect to State forces, this issue will also be a factor. After all why should a victim of the Enniskillen bomb family be any different than say Pat Finucanes family. Both were crimes and both should be acknowledged as such by their respective parties.

    To those that argue you can bring the OTRs home without sorting out the other issues are dreaming, it wont happen.

    The victims rights and expectations should be sort and acted upon BUT they cant have a veto on this sensitive and deal breaking aspect of the over all settlement.

    The issues that victims will want to have an impact upon are:

    Statement of Fact under oath.Legal consequence if found to lie.

    Time constraints.

    The ability to cross examine the Criminal.

    Legal redress in the civil courts.

    Thats a fair compromise.

    Martin.

  • Jo

    I did not make the above comment attributed to me, would whoever is doing this please stop it, its childish. My own views on OTRs are on my website. I believe that this issue is only postponed, and that “celebrations” elsewhere are at best premature

  • Clarence Oddbody

    State sponsored Murder and terrorist murder are both the same. The bill should include both.

    I’t shouldn’t matter if you sat and watched Robert Hamill get kicked to death or killed a policeman or put a bomb in a car and parked it in a crowded street.

    Stuff like this cannot be forgiven and they should all face justice.

  • Seano

    Tafkabo

    “Whether or not the government proceeds with amnesties for OTRs is now irrelevant, they have announced their intentions to proceeed with amnesties for security force members.”

    From Secretary of State Hain: “Secretary of state drops legislation that would have let RUC and army personnel escape prosecution for killings.”

    Now who’s being naive? I don’t know where you get your information from.

  • TAFKABO

    Seano.

    Want to bet that the government will introduce a bill that protects state forces?

  • Seano

    Tafkabo

    “Want to bet that the government will introduce a bill that protects state forces?”

    Anyone can introduce a bill, Tafkabo. What matters is, if it has enough legs to stand up to republican and unionist scrutiny.

  • Realist

    “The British govt could pass as much legislation on it as they wish, but nationalists and republicans will NEVER stop pursuing those (legally and otherwise) that committed murder for the British govt.”

    Seano,

    I am intrigued by the “legally and otherwise” comment.

    Do you mean through the courts and by all other legal methods, or do you mean legally and illegally?

    Appreciate it if you could clarify that.

    Thanks.

  • Seano

    Realist

    “Do you mean through the courts and by all other legal methods, or do you mean legally and illegally?”

    I mean through the courts and by all other methods.