“why should we as a people even consider absolving you of murder in such circumstances?”

I wrote the following piece last February and it was carried in several papers. But in light of the events of the last few weeks, I’ve asked Mick to post it here in full on Slugger.

Someone said recently that Ian Paisley was either right in the ideological principles he was promoting in the 1960’s through to the late 2000’s and the methods he was using and wrong now or wrong then and right now. The same could be said of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness.


Gerry Adams and Declan Kearney, as Sinn Fein President and Chairman respectively, have both expressed regret for the past actions of the IRA during the period called the “Troubles” on a number of occasions. Noticeably they have done so on the basis that Sinn Fein needs reconciliation rather than our Society.


While any expression of regret on behalf of a movement that was responsible for over 2000 murders is to be welcomed, its qualified nature, and the selfish motivation behind it, tends to undermine any benefit that might flow from their comments to the victims of their crimes. To say that you regret something but it was justified in many ways simply compounds the hurt caused.


Those murders can be further broken down to 986 members of the security services, 29 loyalist paramilitaries, 23 republican paramilitaries, 434 Protestants and 260 Catholics. In addition as a result of their flawed campaign to unite the people of Ireland some 12,000 members of our community went to prison and ten of them starved themselves to death despite many in their families objecting strongly.


To add to the misery the promotion of the two flawed ideologies of Ireland also resulted in Loyalist paramilitaries murdering some 900 people. 718 were simply Catholics, 156 were from a Protestant background and 13 members of the security services and 25 Republican paramilitaries. Some 8000 went to prison.


The security services were responsible for 349 deaths. (Army 297, RUC 52), 196 of whom were Civilian.


In 1998 the people of this Island voted to respect the constitutional position of Northern Ireland subject to the right to change it through democratic means. It created a basis to promote Northern Ireland so that we all do well in order to prove that a United Ireland would be a place for all the people of this Island and vice versa to prove Northern Ireland’s people are better off as part of the UK, though with great relations with the rest of the people of this Island. The flawed exclusive political ideologies that led to so much tragedy could be replaced by inclusive ones that bring out the best of our people.


Yet a people still trying to come to terms with the consequences of conflict are being ill served by politicians who fail to challenge their own prejudices and selfish pursuit of power to move into the political space that supports and develops a genuinely constructive peace.


My question to Sinn Fein and others who acted outside the law is why should we as a people even consider absolving you of murder in such circumstances? In answering please also bear in mind that peace was not your gift, it is our right, as is an expectation that our politics should be practiced constructively.


Upon receipt of your answer we can then begin a conversation with the others who acted outside the law and then the victims as to the options of how we deal with our Past as it certainly cannot continue to be dealt with in the fragmented way it has been done to date.


As to the border poll can I suggest we park such an idea for 25 years and consider our options then and spend those years uniting the people of Northern Ireland and hence this Island, even if constitutionally they remain apart. Something that with proper leadership from all sides is possible.

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  • Clanky

    It’s not about absolving anyone of previous crimes, it’s about looking forward instead of backwards and accepting that part of that needs to be acknowledging that no good can come from pursuing the crimes of the past, no matter who they were committed by.

    Prosecuting soldiers for bloody Sunday or those who have evaded prosecution for terrorism on both sides of the divide will not aid the transition towards peace and ultimately (in my opinion) will be less comforting to the victims of violence than an end to sectarianism will be.

  • sergiogiorgio

    Trevor – if you keep looking over your shoulder at the past, you’ll keep tripping over in the present, and totally missing the future.

    The future is in the future, not the past.

    You rightly point out there was death and blame on all sides – move on.

  • Mick Fealty

    Here’s the problem. We’re being invited to move on over some killings, but not others.

  • sergiogiorgio

    And who’s fault was that and who knew?

    Oops, here we go again….

    Ever decreasing circles into the Inferno….

  • Mick Fealty

    Yep, right down into it. Declan’s piece articulates very well what’s being asked for now that the letters of comfort have been blown is a promise of immunity for some killers, and not others.

    That’s a real political issue, that, as I keep saying, isn’t going to go away you know until it is properly confronted.

  • Morpheus

    I’m sorry, who exactly has asked to be absolved from murder again? And who are they asking for absolution from?

    As far as I am concerned – and I would’ve thought that the solicitor Trevor Ringland would be concerned – the courts alone will decide who is guilty of murder so we need to get each and every person who is suspected of murder – be they Republican, Loyalist, Police or Army – up in court as soon as possible so the Judicial System can look at the evidence and put them in prison if they are found guilty. The harsh reality is that if there is no evidence then it’s case closed – no matter how unpalatable that may be.

  • Charles_Gould

    In many cases where no individual admitted responsibility or was found guilty, the IRA claimed responsibility, and it was unlikely to be anyone else.

  • Morpheus

    And? My point is that if no individual admitted responsibility and there is no evidence to convict anyone then it’s case closed – and the solicitor who wrote this piece knows that very well. Now, what’s your point? And I want a single sentence Charles – don’t be going off reservation on me now and giving me 2 🙂

  • Submariner

    I’m curious as to where Trevor gets his figures from they seem wrong

  • 241934 john brennan

    The IRA were the biggest killers – but they never deliberately murdered anyone. Their victims are all classified as the regrettable consequences of war.
    The struggle was not about civil rights. It was all about driving out the murderous Brits. So burn everything except their coal – and keep the wee ‘get out of jail free’ letter in the back pocket – just in case someone wants justice

  • Brian Walker

    Let’s not start from the premise that Paisley was right in the 1960s. Let’s not “absolve” those who committed murder either. Forgiveness is a moral act. But Trevor accepts the GFA under which the law was compromised to end republican violence. Those were political acts. Now we seem to be having a confused debate about relative standards, “one sided justice.”

    But that cuts both ways . Only a few state servants were sent to jail compared with thousands of paramilitaries. This could be because they behaved better than paramilitaries whose basic act was rebellion against lawful authority. The justice system presumed good faith on the part of state actors and by definition, bad faith on the part of paramilitaries who in most cases have no cause for complaint, No doubt some state actors got away with murder and lesser offences .

    After the ceasefires the GFA gave concessions to paramilitaries it didn’t extend to the security forces. Is that unfair? Today, I see very few prosecutions arising out of Stevens and de Silva and the Cory inquiries. Does not the lack of evidence give practical protection to State servants? What else can be done?

    A blanket amnesty would put all on equal terms and strengthen SF’s case that each was as bad as the other and both were combatants of equal status in a war in which the law barely existed.

    Unionists should be wary of Sinn Fein’s little trap. They should think again before complaining about one sided justice. Either that or they should call for a general amnesty.

  • sergiogiorgio

    A general amnesty is the only sensible approach – period.

  • Turgon

    Ringland’s piece is actually pretty shocking. Not shocking because of his analysis of republicans but because of his dividing up of the victims of the IRA.

    Let us be clear the IRA had the “right” to kill no one: all their victims were murdered. They had no more right to murder the children than the police officer, than the IRA member who had fallen foul of their organisation.

    To begin to go down their loathsome route of dividing up their victims into unacceptable and even more unacceptable is to begin to play into the terrorists’ hands.

    It is also worth noting that even if one begins down that route Ringland’s position is pretty unpalatable. Most of the security forces members killed were killed off duty, often in front of their families and a significant number were former members of the security forces. All these murders just as with all the other murders including those committed by loyalist terrorists (and also any committed by the police and army) were all equally morally wrong.

    Ringland is right that the IRA do not deserve to be absolved in any shape manner or form. However, his dividing up of the victims is also morally reprehensible (just less so).

    Some years ago on slugger we had an American poster who repeatedly recycled these sorts of figures to try to claim the IRA were not a sectarian murder gang. Such comments were repeatedly condemned as morally repugnant. Ringland here is admittedly probably naively and unwittingly but just as assuredly starting down that road.

    What is the utility of categorising whom the IRA murdered unless it is to begin to claim that they were less loathsome than they assuredly were.

  • Morpheus

    No, not having it Brian. The police and soldiers who were involved in murder were trained using the taxes of the people they were supposed to protect, they were equipped using the taxes of the people they were supposed to protect and they were paid using the taxes of the people they were supposed to protect. They had a duty of care to protect us – all of us.

    I don’t understand the reluctance to put state agents on trial the same as any terrorist. Surely we all want to know that behavior like that is not tolerated and that those who take part in it are punished to the letter of the law? I for one want reassurance that those ‘murder lists’ cannot happen at any time in the future. I want to know that no one, be they terrorist, MLA, soldier, milkman or housewife is above the law.

    I question the morality of anyone who reduces our judicial system to nothing more than quid pro quo. It doesn’t work like that. If there is evidence then convict and if there isn’t then case closed, it doesn’t matter what profession they have or what group they have affiliations to.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Trevor Ringland,

    “To add to the misery the promotion of the two flawed ideologies of Ireland”

    Is that not what the Conservatives do?

    “David Cameron was today accused of dragging Northern Ireland back to the dark old days by “promoting” sectarian politics after it emerged a joint unionist candidate had been agreed for the Fermanagh-South Tyrone seat.”


  • clarks

    Why did Trevor omit religion for those murdered by the ‘security services’?

  • Mick Fealty


    One of the things that confuses is the continuing insistence that there was an agreement at Weston Park to something concrete on the matter of OTRs. There may well have been, but the chosen route never materialised and the government with whom the accommodation is no longer in power.

    In any case the GFA did not include those still on the run from justice. They were not meant to be absolved as is clear from the various campaigns set up to bring alleged state killers to justice.

    There is already an agreed means of dealing with legacy Troubles related crime, and that is to have them only serve two years and then out. Then we don’t get stuck down false allies of whom was more egregious than the other.

    And in this I think we are being asked to swallow too many untruths whole. I agree with most of what Morph says on these matters on each of the occasions, when he says them.

    There were letters of comfort, but they were not an amnesty. Nor were they the product of agreement between two governments. So what were they then?

    They were letters of comfort, which seem to have given SF’s ex combatant politicians sufficient peace of mind that the British would not come looking for them without warning that they ‘felt’ able to operate a fairly aggressive campaign suggesting that state killers be, erm, brought to justice.

    That’s some northern comfort… 😉


    We could talk about immunity (as Declan seems to want from Theresa) with the firm caveat that Brian has lodged, ie that politics is perfectly capable of resetting moral parameters after conflict. But I don’t see how that is possible given the degree of bad faith and deceit that’s been on display in this regard.

    The problem for any roll back from the current situation is that such bad faith is corrosive to the sense that anyone on the other side can be trusted with anything of value for the future ‘commonwealth’ of Northern Ireland.

    And, just as they previously did with the MLK project, and selection in education, SF has tipped most of its playable cards into the lap of the DUP. And after a couple of years of making their lives hell, I’m not sure the DUP are well disposed to making any return journey easy for them.

    All of which, in crude populist terms, is the political job of keeping everyone firmly ensconced in their respective communal laagers/homelands jobbed. Everybody’s happy!!

  • Clanky

    Mick –

    “Here’s the problem. We’re being invited to move on over some killings, but not others”

    Absolutely, no-one can be expected to accept that the IRA did horrible things, but that dredging them up will serve no-one while those who are saying that are calling for soldiers to be prosecuted for what they did during the same period.

    Sadly the politicians are pandering to the basest elements in their potential electorate again rather than standing up and leading people towards the future.

    Unionist politicians have been heavily criticised for a lack of leadership recently, but where is the leadership from Nationalist / Republican politicians?

  • tacapall

    “There is already an agreed means of dealing with legacy Troubles related crime, and that is to have them only serve two years and then out. Then we don’t get stuck down false allies of whom was more egregious than the other”

    We all know the above only applies to non state actors Mick. The preferred method of issuing amnesties to state actors is prolonged inquests, whitewash reports like De Silva or simply telling relatives to fk off like below


    February 12, 2014

    The decision by the Metropolitan Police not to release files on the death of Sammy Devenny, the Derry man who died three months after being viciously beaten by the now disbanded RUC almost 45 years, has been described as “unacceptable” by Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney.

  • mac tire

    12,000 Republicans imprisoned and 8,000 Loyalists, you say Trevor.
    You left out the number of “security services” imprisoned.

  • sherdy

    Trevor, – ‘Sinn Fein and others who acted outside the law’. Were SF a paramilitary organisation? Can you not remember the names of any of the participants?

    Who would you ‘absolve of murder’? Were any of your family killed during the troubles? Surely it is only the real victims who can do the absolving.

    Your statistics on the dead seems very neat and tidy, but you don’t single out any deaths due to collusion. Surely you can’t forget your former lawyer colleague Pat Finucane, who was directly murdered by a UVF gang, but it was at the behest of the British politicians, using intelligence supplied by the British army.

    But then, as an Ulster Protestant, I suppose you can’t be expected to think otherwise.

  • Politico68

    Political leaders are under no pressure to resolve the issues of the past while commentators play the same game of blame and counter blame.
    Listen to any debate between reps of the opposing sides in the North and what you witness is effectively a game of shadow tennis. A continuous rally of accusation batting, each trying to get cleverer and more skilled, hoping eventually to deliver a powerful enough charge that will result in game, Set and match with one side victorious over the other. The fatal blow never comes, and it never will.
    We can get as frustrated as we like about it, and commentators can fill as many pages as they care but sadly, the same commentators play out exactly the same continuous ,self-perpetuating cycle of claim and counter claim leading nowhere, while only managing to get on the backs of the very people they are hoping to civilize. Personal bias, editorial restrictions and sometimes just plain laziness in the columns of newspapers and online resources mean that the people, including victims have nobody really fighting on their behalf to bring all sides to some sort of compromise resulting in answers or indeed justice. Moreover, it also means that the entrenched views of all sides are further solidified as they stumble across biased commentary that suggests their particular view is the right view, ultimately compounding the problem further.
    “Yet a people still trying to come to terms with the consequences of conflict are being ill served by politicians who fail to challenge their own prejudices and selfish pursuit of power to move into the political space that supports and develops a genuinely constructive peace.”
    Take the word ‘politicians’ out of the above quote and replace it with ‘journalists and commentators”
    In a post conflict era, the media have responsibilities to go further than simply show off their academic prowess and/or nakedly display their personal prejudices. They need to show leadership where it is clearly lacking.
    “My question to Sinn Fein and others who acted outside the law is why should we as a people even consider absolving you of murder in such circumstances?”
    The quote above is a fine example of how you can repel those, whose very involvement we need to get to the bottom of the question you ask. The people you refer to are not interested in your absolution if it means dealing with them as somehow separate and distinct from all players in the conflict. As bitter a pill that maybe to swallow, it is the reality of the situation.
    “Upon receipt of your answer we can then begin a conversation with the others who acted outside the law and then the victims as to the options of how we deal with our Past as it certainly cannot continue to be dealt with in the fragmented way it has been done to date.”
    Here you simply offer a fragmented solution to a fragmented problem; first we will do A then we will do B. We know this won’t work. In fact of all the things that we might have questions about, we know for one hundred percent certainty that the approach you suggest above will never be adopted by those who you say ‘acted outside the law’. Why? Because they ultimately felt that the law had failed them. They believe they had a moral right to act as they did. They believe that they had some level of support in their actions. They believe the state failed them, abused them, and ignored them. I could go on. The bottom line is if this is what they believe then they do not see themselves as acting outside the law they see themselves as reacting to the oppression of the law.
    This is what you have to deal with.
    “Sinn Féin believes that as a society seeks to leave conflict behind, and to move forward there is a requirement that all of us address the tragic human consequences of the past.
    Republicans are very conscious of the hurt and suffering which has been caused through conflict in our country. We reject any attempt to create and sustain a hierarchy of victims. All victims and survivors of the conflict must be treated on the basis of equality.
    In order to deal with our past, do justice to the memory and victims and give closure to families of victims and survivors, we need to put in place a mechanism to facilitate that.
    Sinn Féin believes an independent International Truth Commission is required as a vehicle for truth recovery.”
    (Martin Ferris TD speaking in the Dail 15TH May 2013)
    We can criticize the above, rubbish it as fantasy, we can accuse Loyalists, Republicans, Unionists, Nationalist and both governments of whatever we like. But the tennis game keeps going with no end in sight until everybody, especially commentators, realize that all these issue will only be resolved when there is agreement to deal with them collectively.

  • DC

    Without wanting to come across as a troll on this one but do you think if loyalists had killed an additional 1000 catholics, actually if so it probably would have been 900 catholics and 100 protestants, and matched the murder tally of republicans would Unionism have got a much better deal for itself around 1998?

    I’m beginning to think given the way that peace was secured here that perhaps if loyalism had been more ruthless and as murderous as republicans rather than less, a more balanced deal may have been struck by the powers that be.

  • sherdy

    DC, – I think you’re acting on a false premise.

    The reason Sinn Fein can get better deals is because they have always had to negotiate from a position of weakness. Not an ideal situation, but it certainly taught them how to extract the best possible deals.

    Unionists, on the other hand, have always had the ear of English politicians and only needed to squeal when any crisis arose, and they would get what they wanted. Those days have gone, but unionists still have to learn to use their brains instead of bluff and bluster.

    But they still have plenty of years to come to that realisation.

  • Reader

    DC – that’s a ugly thought. (Not criticising – just an observation)
    But actually, it’s not as though SF got a very good deal, and they did all the heavy lifting for the consequential benefits to the loyalist paramilitaries too.
    Remember that, so far as successive British governments were concerned, power sharing had been on the table all along.
    And as for unionism, if it hadn’t been for loyalist paramilitarism and thuggery, northern republicanism would have collapsed into impotence and irrelevance as it had done several times before. There would have no deal, just a bit of tidying up.

  • Morpheus

    Mick, you really need to let this Shinner/EveryManAndHisDog list thing go. SF are more than capable of doing shady deals behind closed doors but this is simply not the smoking gun you were hoping for – the whole ‘conspiracy’ was blown apart in just a few short hours with minimal effort.

    I think your take on SF ‘tipping most of their playable cards into the lap of the DUP’ is somewhat misplaced. On the Maze we all got to watch the DUP make one of their legendary 180s and see how the good name of a world renowned architect was trampled though the mud with all the talk of ‘shrines to terrorists.’ Then we had the flag protests coupled with outrage from political unionism on republican parades but silence on loyalist parades. Then we had The Haass proposals when SF and those who voted for their implementation were given the opportunity to say to Haass, Cameron, Kenny, Obama and the world’s media with a high degree of credibility “we tried but look at what we were up against.” Then we had the manufactured ‘crisis’ and most recently we have the UUP trying to out-DUP the DUP by putting forward a laughable list of proposals in a crude attempt to court the Loyal Orders at the expense of moderate unionism. And all that’s without mentioning the 241% increase in the number of parades between 2003 and 2013, the numerous breaches of the PC rulings, urinating on a Church, The Famine Song incident, playing The Sash outside a service and so on.

    The last NILT had the number of Catholics who vote DUP/UUP combined at 1% – do you think political unionism has done anything – and I mean ANYTHING – to positively change that percentage since that poll was taken or have they done the opposite? In short, who do you think has the cards really?

    Back to Trevor’s blog then I can but iterate that the courts decide who gets tried for murder. Trevor, as a solicitor knows this more than most so I can’t help but question his motives for asking you to repost his blog at this time.

  • DC


    You would need to do some more explaining about this statement to convince me:

    as for unionism, if it hadn’t been for loyalist paramilitarism and thuggery, northern republicanism would have collapsed into impotence and irrelevance as it had done several times before.

    Why do you believe that, what pivotal points are you referring to?

    I think Paisley’s particular brand of pure protestant politics or perhaps the politics of religious purity i.e. only Prods should rule and be in government in NI at Stormont was very damaging to Northern Ireland and its development as racial purity and racial doctrines were to Germany and its.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Good to see that the British Security Forces killed no Catholics or Protestants, bit hard on civilians though, I suppose their agents murdered enough Catholics and Protestants on their behalf?

  • DC


    Well I will never know as it’s a counterfactual, a might have been, but I have a sneaky suspicion that a more murderous Unionist paramilitary outfit may have had a bigger impact on decision making parameters. Particularly going by ‘you guys your problem is you don’t have guns.’

    Anyhow, we are all very fortunate this wasn’t so and more people were not killed.

    In relation to Finucane, republicans go along with a war narrative when it suits, but when there are situations such as Gibraltar when its war turns against it or perhaps turns in on itself right inside the house of Pat Finucane (http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/regional/jean-mcconville-killer-is-named-1-5670723) there’s a misplaced sense of victim hood. SF and republicans at times tend to see themselves as victims rather than instigators, talk about confusion over cause and effect. It is like SF seemed to expect a war without consequences for its participants and volunteers. Whereas for the RUC and army it was always fair game and the most underhanded way to eliminate them that could be thought up was carried out, hearts were closed and human existence brought to an end in the most horrible way possible. In the case of Downey and Hyde Park horses even met a horrible end.

    I think it is very naive to believe that Unionist paramilitaries had no impact on the type of deal brokered on Good Friday. The threat of violence had some part in shaping the parameters as did potential IRA violence, clearly becoming all the more apparent today in the context of #ShinnersList