Ivan Lewis on the OTR Letters

In today’s Belfast Telegraph, Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Ivan Lewis attempts to straddle the line between preserving the Labour legacy of peace here and distancing himself from Blair and Peter Hain.

In his opening paragraphs Lewis attempts to chart a middle course saying

Some have suggested the UK Government and more specifically my party should recant for the introduction of the so called “on the run” administrative scheme. I cannot accept this despite the understandable anger some have expressed.

It would be a failure of leadership and integrity to be retrospectively selective about key elements of a historic peace process which ended 30 years of violence and terror.

He then moved on to set out that peace is not always an easy thing to achieve

Peace processes by their nature are never perfect or easy. They require all participants to take a deep breath swallow hard and not allow any moment or issue in time to circumvent the big prize of an end to violence and the chance for a new beginning.

That is what people like Tony Blair, Mo Mowlam and Jonathan Powell did and I’m proud they did so under the banner of a Labour Government.

It is what successive Irish government leaders did and why John Major deserves credit for his role in laying the foundations for the peace process.

This is the key part;

However, in defending the peace process we owe the families of the victims of the Hyde park bombings both answers and an unequivocal apology.

Of course, for the catastrophic error which has once again accentuated the pain which for them never goes away and lessens the likelihood of them ever getting truth or justice. But also for the crass insensitivity of those who chose to focus on the perceived wrong Mr Downey suffered.

Is it any wonder people feel angry when the rights of an individual, who is innocent until proven guilty, but who faced sufficient evidence to justify his arrest, appear to be more important than the soldiers brutally murdered on that day?

Knocking back NI21s amnesty proposals he says

I do not agree that peace would be best served now and in the future by denying victim’s families any right to seek answers and accountability for the loss of loved ones.

Whether those concerned are the vast majority who were killed by IRA or loyalist paramilitaries or others who are alleged to have been killed unlawfully by military personnel, supposedly “drawing a line” with an across the board amnesty would do nothing to heal wounds or help create a better environment for reconciliation.

Overall it was an interesting op-ed from Lewis and bares all the hallmarks of a shadow SOS actually saying more insight comments than his counterpart in the House of Commons. But no doubt this saga will go on and Lewis appears to be ready to defend his party’s past while distancing himself from the action itself.

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs