More than ever, the “crisis” shows the need to face up honestly to the end of Troubles prosecutions

Fair enough. There are genuine grounds for shock and anger but there is a good deal of grandstanding too. The pity of it is, the growing recognition among unionists of the case for limited immunity tied to truth recovery will be set back. Taking the optimistic view (somebody has to), the full extent of de facto amnesty will emerge a lot more clearly and can no longer be denied. The pretence should end, that “ justice”  is attainable were it not for the machinations of the British government and Sinn Fein. This crisis shows how overdue is an honest declaration that Troubles prosecutions are coming to an end. Yes I know – don’t hold your breath.  In the meantime there are quite a few hoops to go through before the amour propre of politicians is satisfied.

The Mail publishes a rogues gallery of alleged receivers of “comfort letters” (who though that one up?)  which includes the  deceased Owen Carron ( apologies, not deceased!) . Several of them have the clear evidence of a prison escape against them.

The old cynical saying is that one killing in England is worth a hundred in Northern Ireland – and it might be added, one campaign on behalf of British soldiers too. As they did on behalf of Private Lee Clegg the old brass hats are massing. The Telegraph has canvassed their views

Gen Lord Dannatt, a former head of the Army, described the decision to drop the case against Mr Downey as “disappointing and distressing”. It would be “an outrage” if Bloody Sunday troops were prosecuted, he claimed.

“If a double line has been drawn under this for one set of people, then of course a double line should be drawn under this for the British soldiers,” he said.

Gen Sir Mike Jackson, who was serving with the Parachute Regiment in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday and went on to be head of the Army, said: “It does seem, on the grounds of fairness, that all should be treated equally and I thought that was the intent of the Good Friday Agreement.” Col Richard Kemp, who served eight tours in Northern Ireland, said: “It would be entirely wrong to try troops accused of murder or unlawful killing when the terrorists have effectively been given a get out of jail free card

Of course there is the finicky point of logic that if it was wrong to let republicans off the hook so it is also wrong to do likewise for soldiers.   And  Sinn Fein and others will say that looking at the record of prosecutions for collusions and “shoot to kill”,  the security forces  are enjoying their own de facto amnesty. At the moment though  our own Col Tim Collins has the floor.

I have long asserted that the Good Friday Agreement was in fact a “peace at any price” deal where a militarily defeated IRA and the chaotic so-called loyalist paramilitaries were given the working-class populations of their respective communities as a blood dowry, to do with as they pleased in exchange for keeping the violence off the TV screens. The knee-cappings and beatings carried on out of sight. Only once – the brutal murder of Robert McCartney in 2005 – did the mask slip, but this was quickly covered up.

But we can now see that the hidden agreement went further. The very lives of our Servicemen were on the table too, it seems. Even in retirement I am advising former colleagues in the SAS who are still being called to explain their actions in confronting IRA gun teams and killing the would-be killers. There are long lines of cases still to go to court; SAS soldiers and others who sought to do their duty versus the Republican machine, the European courts and the tangled framework of a lopsided agreement. The goal of the Republicans is to secure convictions against Servicemen in order to vindicate their 30-year murder campaign – and naturally secure millions of pounds in compensation as collateral damage to the British state.


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  • streetlegal

    It has been suggested that Martin MCGuinness himself was given some kind of assurance of immunity from the British Government from any future prosecutions that might arise from ongoing investigations into the Claudy bombing and other Provisional IRA operations.

  • Banjaxed

    It has been suggested also, Streetlegal, that Man could fly unaided but, when put to the test, crashed to the ground. More or less like your cockamamie theory without the evidence to back it up.

    As far as I’m concerned, I’ve seen PR throw one hissy-fit after another over the years. He’s very good at them, But it does become tiring with repetition.

    It would suit him very well to get out on a high ‘principled’ note. It would also, with the possible re-imposition of direct rule, get the DUP’s much vaunted, and slavish, pursuit of Tory welfare cuts on to the books without any local opprobrium or backlash.

    To this extent, it would almost suit SF as well, as they could say, with justification, ‘Nothing to do with us, guys. It’s the Brits again’.

  • Turgon

    Brian Walker,
    “More than ever, the “crisis” shows the need to face up honestly to the end of Troubles prosecutions

    Wrong. More than ever the crisis shows the unacceptability to most people here of whatever political position of ignoring the rule of law.

    The Belfast Agreement provided for no amnesty; rather it provided for early release. That annoyed a great many people (imagine if Lee Rigby’s killers only served 2 years) but was accepted. What this crisis shows is that that position: normal prosecution albeit with only 2 years in gaol was the acceptable minimimum.

    If supporters of the agreement like Mr. Walker now want to rip up parts of the agreement or add to it they need a mandate from a further referendum after having spelt out the full extent of any desired changes.

  • ayeYerMa

    Remember only a few months ago Walker was smugly dictating how the strategy of victims of terrorism should be to gloat about how terrorists “got their commupance” in the judicial system. More evidence (not that we need it) that you’ll never get anyone more naive, out of touch with reality, or weak than a “liberal progressive”.

  • Brian Walker

    Forget the Tea Party smears about “liberalism”. Look at reality.

    Nobody is writing off the seriousness of the moment and the blow dealt to fragile trust .It was dishonest not to declare the full extent of republican concessions It is also dishonest not to acknowledge the severe limitations to winning justice and go on pretending they are greater than what they are.

    he “rule of law ” is often a compromise with reality on the ground and all the parties know it. Everybody knows all this stuff really but haven’t the courage to bring it all out into the open. It’s that which perpetuates distrust

    The question is, do we want to improve the system or bring it down? What to critics suggest should happen now – I mean NOW not in 2002, 2006, 2007 – or 1690?

    Concentrate on that as hard headed as you like and we get somewhere. It’s called “politics.”

  • You have to admit that Sinn Fein have won again in deals to look after their own.

    The key question for Sinn Fein voters is whether they are actually within the boundary of “Ourselves Alone” or whether the boundary of “Ourselves Alone” is just the inner circle of around 200 people and that everyone outside this circle is being duped just as much as the DUP have been duped.

  • Barney

    Turgon wrote
    “The Belfast Agreement provided for no amnesty”

    And no amnesty has been granted, a letter that states that the holder is not being sought by the police is not an amnesty. Its not a de facto amnesty either as that implies an admission of guilt, Mr Downey is innocent until a court says otherwise.

    Unionists knew that OTRs were being dealt and yer man from the TUV is correct, the DUP and the TV guy’s party didnt ask the right questions.

  • mr x

    Works both ways. No-one is going to stand trial for the Dublin bombings now.

  • GEF

    What is the difference between an amnesty and a pardon by royal prerogative?

    Whatever, one far out view could be that HM Government & SF decided (in secret) to send (get out of jail free) letters to OTR 187 pre 1998 ex IRA terrorists to prevent them joining dissident republicans and sharing their knowledge about planting bombs etc etc:

  • Shibboleth

    Brian Walker – When did Owen Carron die?

    “The Mail publishes a rogues gallery of alleged receivers of “comfort letters” (who though that one up?) which includes the deceased Owen Carron. “

  • Morpheus

    Ger you are confusing 2 issues.

    The 187 letters were not amnesty, immunity or pardons, they were simply confirmation letters saying that the recipients were not being pursued by the police. The letters were nothing more than administration.

    Royal Pardons are a different issue completely. Personally I detest the idea of them as I find them the epitome of cowardice – to me if these guys were ‘man’ enough to do the crime then they should be ‘man’ enough to face the consequences and do the time.

    13 of these Royal Pardons have been issued since the year 2000.

  • Morpheus

    Sorry, GEF

  • Banjaxed

    There has been quite a lot of grandstanding over the undermining of the justice system in relation to the light treatment afforded to the OTRs. Let’s face it, from the start of our ‘Troubles’, the justice system has always been bent, twisted or undermined given whatever direction the political wind was blowing at any particular time.

    Take the case of Baron John Passmore Widgery, OBE, TD, QC, PC, more commonly known as Lord Widgery, the head of the English Judiciary who produced one of the most discredited legal judgements in English legal history in his now infamous Widgery Tribunal.

    Take also Lord Denning’s ‘appalling vista’ remarks on the treatment after the arrest of the Birmingham Six, followed by their several unsuccessful appeals – one in front of, again!, Lord Widgery, btw. Or the arrest and imprisonment on dubious grounds of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven. Each single one innocent, yet found guilty and banged up due to the political pressures of the day.

    We have come through a dirty little war. Unconscionable acts were committed by ALL sides in the conflict and NOBODY comes out of it smelling of roses. To end it, however, special needs dictated that extra-special solutions be found – sleights of hand, nudges and winks or constructive ambiguity – call it what you will – all were brought in and used with one end: to stop the killing.

    My point is, everything had been tried before – a biased courts system, supergrass trials, informers, touts, spys and spooks – all to no avail. The GFA worked, no matter what anybody says to the contrary. It was, and is, messy and there’s a lot of it which, quite frankly, stinks. But there aren’t any bodies in the streets any longer. Think hard on that one point alone.

    It is my firm opinion that, if a line is not drawn under the past immediately, we will be condemned to spend the rest of our own lives and our children’s in this phoney peace-war forever. It happened, get over it and live your life. And before any bottom-feeder tries to tell me it’s easy for me to say, I lost a sibling to sectarian low-lives in the conflict. I will never forget but I’m prepared to move on.

  • carnmoney.guy

    Breaking news,
    Alex salmon wants Gerry kelly on the negotiation team if Scots vote for independence
    Experience of leading HM gov in a merry dance

  • “the case for limited immunity tied to truth recovery will be set back.”

    You cannot be serious, Brian 🙂

    “the blow dealt to fragile trust”

    The Northern Ireland problem is not about trust, it’s about competing constitutional aspirations.

    “It’s called “politics.””

    The desire by London and Dublin to protect major institutions and to contain paramilitary misdemeanours to here produced the politics of appeasement.

  • Brian Walker

    apologies to shibboleth and to him – Owen Carron lives! So many of my old interviewees are dead – senior moment..

  • Nevin

    “The Northern Ireland problem is not about trust, it’s about competing constitutional aspirations.”

    I didn’t see where Brian denied the existence of competing constitutional aspirations. That is a given. Are you saying there is no way to have trust, even fragile trust between people supporting competing constitutional aspirations?

    What is the difference in your world between “appeasement” and “compromise”? Did Mandela appease the white minority when he didn’t jail them for their 90 year campaign of terrorist atrocities?

    My fear in all of this is that attitudes can only harden and I don’t mean Unionist ones – they are already as stiff as I have ever seen, I mean Nationalists and globals. This current affair is histrionics that will only strengthen Sinn Fein in election year and which serves to justify creative deals as being the only way round outright obstructionism. It’s a shame – standing in the doorway with arms folded makes people sneak round the back.

  • Mick Fealty

    Crisis is good. So long as (as Heaney put it) we end up “going down for the good stuff”.

  • Billy Pilgrim


    ‘Nobody is writing off the seriousness of the moment…’

    I am. Loads of people are.

    ‘… and the blow dealt to fragile trust’

    There is absolutely no shortage of trust. Unionism can be trusted 100%. Everyone trusts unionism.

    Everyone trusts unionism to act like the most malign, atavistic and violent political subculture in Europe.

    Everyone trusts unionism to always retreat to willful destructiveness.

    Unionism never lets us down.

    The problem here is not lack of trust. The problem here is that unionism is led by wreckers and savages.

    The problem here is unionism. It is utterly incorrigible.

    It should surprise no-one that civilized people, such as the nationalist community, and pragmatic sectors such as the British state, will deal with each other, and attempt not to have their negotiations interfered-with by savages.

    Unionists have proven themselves incapable of anything other than wrecking. Small wonder that HMG is happier talking to the ‘Ra than to them.

  • “Are you saying there is no way to have trust, even fragile trust between people supporting competing constitutional aspirations?”

    Yes, Michael, and compromise IMO requires a range of shared goals. Any measures that would enhance co-operation are undermined by the politics of confrontation and provocation. London and Dublin wouldn’t tolerate paramilitary fiefdoms in other parts of these islands whereas they facilitate and endorse them here.

  • David Crookes

    When World War II ended the former belligerents began to make agreements with one another, and many documents were locked up for more than two generations. Some of them are still locked up.

    That wasn’t fair to the thousands and millions of innocent people who had suffered at the hands of wicked civilians and soldiers, but a decision was made to move away from the past.. In 1957 France and West Germany came together in the avant-courier of the European Community.

    NI must decide to move away from its own past. Of course that isn’t fair to those who suffered in the past, but it isn’t fair that elderly people should dictate the agenda for a rising generation when jobs and money are scarce. Elderly people must stand aside. So must the Young Fogeys whom they have cloned.

    Since any attempt to address “victimhood” is foredoomed to be utterly arbitrary in its focus, we should forget about absurdities like truth commissions. NI has NOTHING to learn from modern South Africa, which is characterized chiefly by murder, rape, and corruption.

    People in NI should be grateful for two things: our population is very small, and most of its members cherish a civilized way of life. The politician who dares to say that we must leave the Troubles behind, and that we must allow our young people to live in the present, will be displaying not only a rare courage, but also a rare intelligence.

    We need no more accursed thirty-year commemorations by the meretricious media of this or that terrorist atrocity. Let us have no more whipping up of emotions that can find outlet in no useful outcome. There is no such thing as closure. Many persons whom the Troubles bereaved will suffer until they die.

    Move on. That’s what most of us voted for in the GFA. Move on. Grow up, Flags on designated days. A code of conduct for marches. And have done with the past. The unionist politician who can sell these three pieces of mere sense to the bulk of his electorate will be as important in the history of NI as the Ian Paisley who signed up to the SAA.

  • New Yorker

    You did not mention the Nuremberg trials after WWII. It delivered justice in regard to Nazi leaders. It was a necessary step before progressing a new Europe. There have been no such trials in NI, and some may believe that justice is necessary before true progress is possible.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, New Yorker. It was easy to identify the Nazi leaders, but what do you do when G Adams, who along with other IRA leaders negotiated with William Whitelaw in the early 1970s, denies that he was ever a member of the IRA?

    Whether or not it would ever have been possible to hold such trials as you suggest, it’s far too late now. Sixteen years have passed since 1998. Half a generation. Four more years than the full lifetime of the Third Reich. Imagine trying to hold a set of Nuremberg Trials in 1961.

  • “Four more years than the full lifetime of the Third Reich. Imagine trying to hold a set of Nuremberg Trials in 1961.”

    @David Crookes,
    Actually West Germany held its own set of war crimes trials in the mid-1960s that were much more comprehensive than the Nuremberg trials. They just did not get as much publicity outside of Germany because the Nazis being tried were mid-ranking functionaries rather than the top leadership.

  • David Crookes

    Fine, tmitch, but there are less than two million of us in NI, and it’s far too easy to unsettle our little ship of state by whipping up emotions in respect of a past that our rising generation knows nothing about. We can’t afford a whole series of trials, we don’t need it, and if we do get it we shan’t be any better off. So let us cut the Gordian knot, and move on.

  • Barney

    “They just did not get as much publicity outside of Germany because the Nazis being tried were mid-ranking functionaries rather than the top leadership.”

    And those being tried tended to be expendable, denazification was a failure. The tiny number tried by the allies and later the West Germans dwarfs those including middle ranking individuals not prosecuted.

    The hundreds of middle ranking managers responsible for the murder of millions of people were not prosecuted, the western states also sheltered hundreds of collaborators also responsible for mass murder.

    David’s point stands

  • New Yorker

    David, I’m not suggesting a NI Nuremberg trials for the present. I’m pointing out that trying leaders may have made European progress more likely than if there were no trials at that time. That is something that did not happen in NI and some may believe, as I said above, that without that type of public justice there really cannot be much progress. I don’t think it is simply a matter of whipping up emotions, the human desire for justice runs very deep.

    tmitch, I am one who was unaware of the German 1960s trials of mid level Nazis. It sounds to me like it was the right thing to do and a matter of getting their moral house in order.

  • Granni Trixie

    Am I the only one to fnd it terribly funny (meaning amusing) to think of republicans accepting the Qieens Pardon (not to mention the queens shill in’) ….someone told me that Gerry Kelly had one but if not then some of their MLAs are sure to have one.
    Wonder how it goes down in the Felens Club?

  • Barney

    That’s how the British system works, they have an unelected head of state.

    Your comment reminds me of the woman crowing about SF having a address, demonstrating a depth of ignorance and pettiness at the same time

  • Granni Trixie

    I can live with being petty,it’s killing and criminality I would have a problem with.

  • ShaneFrank

    Mr Crookes – Is it any wonder big Gerry still does not admit that he was in the IRA. Evidently unsafe ground. He’d be arrested in the morning if he did. Be a classic if he the ‘letter’. Should wave it about like a Tory Toff the next time he’s in the Dail getting hounded by FG/FF…

  • Barney

    Quite, it’s not really funny that people have been pardoned. Republicans also have difficulty with partial decisions.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, New Yorker. In West Germany you had an overwhelming majority of citizens who had pretty well renounced the doctrines of fascism and who wanted to belong to the same country. In NI you had and have two groups of citizens who want to belong to two different countries. A fair number of those citizens have an equivocal attitude to lawless violence.

  • New Yorker

    David, I think you put your finger on it regarding the equivocal attitude to lawless violence. I have come across it in my time in NI. As long as that attitude exists, some of the society is not really civilized. Perhaps that is also the reason there has been a less than rigorous pursuit of justice. All in all it does not portend well for the future unless the attitude of those who equivocate on lawless violence change for the better or die out.

  • Banjaxed

    New Yorker

    I apologise for going slightly off topic here, but would your comment on ‘the attitude of those who equivocate on lawless violence’ encompass the illegal, unlawful occupation, the destruction of towns, cities and, to an immeasurable and unknowable number, of the largely innocent, civilian population of Iraq?

    Quite possibly this is not, in actual fact, a ‘really civilized’ question to ask – especially when we’re talking of up to a million killed in Iraq in a couple of years and, what…, 3.6K in NI in 40 years?

    Just asking…

  • New Yorker


    By name and nature, I take it. What has Iraq got to do with a discussion on NI? Whataboutery is the highest level of little minds.

  • Banjaxed

    Thank you, New Yorker, for your concern about the state of my mind. I shall treasure it.

    Your words: ‘…the equivocal attitude to lawless violence. I have come across it in my time in NI. As long as that attitude exists, some of the society is not really civilized.’

    OK. In making my comments I assumed two things – possibly in error:

    1. You are not a native of this parish and
    2. You are American (from your chosen handle).

    If either of the above is incorrect, I apologise.

    However, if someone from a different country comes over here, looks around and declares unequivocally that parts of the society here is ‘not really civilised’ – well, to be honest, I found your remark quite offensive and, therefore, given my own assumptions, considered I had a right to ask you from what moral level were you basing your assertions – in other words, how unequivocal are you in relation to a much, much greater horror and tragedy.

    Nonetheless, if incorrect, I withdraw my question.

  • New Yorker


    I spend a few months of the year in NI on a family property but I am American born and bred. My neighbors sometimes refer to me as the “New Yorker”. I know NI fairly well and have an interest that there is improvement and that is why I am concerned about the attitude to lawless violence that David mentioned.

    The tendency to whataboutery is counterproductive and deflects from the issue under consideration.

    BTW, do you approve or disapprove of lawless violence?

  • David Crookes

    Thanks for your posts, New Yorker. I reckon that humans have a right to comment on human life as it is lived in different parts of the world. There are only so many tricks that we humans can play.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, ShaneFrank, and sorry that I missed your posting yesterday. Indeed! But today GA’s denial that he was ever in the IRA has one notable consequence. There can never, ever, be any such thing as a truth commission in NI. You may as well ask people to discuss two of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies, and forbid them to mention any proper noun that is used as a brand-name by makers of cigars.

  • Banjaxed

    New Yorker

    ‘BTW, do you approve or disapprove of lawless violence?’

    I’m afraid that’s a “Have you stopped beating your wife?” type of question. It’s a ‘lose/lose’ whatever’s the response. However, I can only and, in all honesty, reply, ‘It depends’.

    For example, would you describe the actions of the American colonists against the legally constituted British rulers of the day as ‘lawless’? Some people would and did, ie, the British and their Loyalist colonist allies, others thought them freedom fighters. Or, the war against apartheid conducted by the ANC against a democratically elected government in South Africa. I’ve met quite a few people here who still consider Nelson Mandela a terrorist. Or the men and women of 1916 Ireland, etc, etc? The list is endless. Ultimately it depends from whose perspective are you looking at it or the circumstances themselves.

    I would therefore maintain that equivocation is the norm when it comes to violence, lawful or lawless.

    As a general rule I’m personally against violence per se but there are times when you have no other option but to retaliate. As I said, it depends…