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 What was so different about the Troubles – some call it a war – that even legal redress should be withdrawn from victims?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.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty