Pressure for a Troubles amnesty continues to mount.

Denis Bradley, the co-author of the original report on Dealing with the Past thirteen years ago which  has never been improved on, has come up with an extraordinary argument for what reads like one step away from an amnesty for the Troubles. In this he joins the local academics who for years had been arguing that  assessment of the evidence against both the security forces and paramilitaries should be  independent from the usual institutions of the state if it was to win  public, in effect mainly nationalist,  confidence.  After a period of consultation, the UK government had appeared to accept the long standing proposals  which owed a lot to the work of the academics headed by Queen’s Law professor Kieran McEvoy. But Conservative pressure was increasing on successive governments to abandon what they regarded as false equivalence. When the new secretary of state did a sudden volte face in January, to considerable surprise McEvoy’s model Bill team equally suddenly abandoned their own proposals too. In their lengthy analysis of their new position they never quite explain why they’ve changed their minds.

Bradley follows suit, holding his nose, clearly believing that agreement among local parties and with the present Conservative government on the Stormont House ( legacy) Bill  is impossible.

The criticism that the British are motivated by the pressure to protect their soldiers from prosecution is obviously correct. But that same criticism can be made against all the groups who have a stake in this most sensitive issue. There is no group who has the bragging rights when it comes to dealing with the past. The governments, the political parties, the survivor and victim groups have all responded to dealing with this legacy only through the prism of their own experience and needs.

The ground that is our past, and the efforts to sort it, has been rotavated and trampled on so much that it has become a swamp. It has been churned up so much that there is very little solid ground left on which to construct a solution.

The motivation of the British government probably stinks but the new proposal may be the only solid ground left on which to build. Politics never sleeps. Politics has moved far in the last ten years and further still in the last month. The new British proposals can be worked on and improved. The core proposal for a small legacy commission of a few experienced and authoritative people is compatible with the core proposal of the Consultative Group on the Past. On the other hand, the complicated governance mechanism in the Stormont House Agreement is a major political weakness.

Complete rejection of the government proposal at this time might well ensure that the more reasonable and rightful demands of victims and survivors will sink into the swamp.

There have been exceptions before and if the two governments make a case that a quarter of a century has passed since our troubles and that the proposal does not exclude a full police investigation in a small number of cases, then it is likely to receive a favourable hearing.

Denis is the latest to call for a wrap on the Troubles. Kieran McEvoy’s model team would settle for a waiver on prosecution in exchange for a soldier’s confession – or even without one. Attorney General John Larkin would exempt from prosecution cases where a soldier had a split second to decide whether to open fire. These are essentially fig leaves for amnesty. To reach that point without a storm of hypocrisy from all sides, honesty and frankness all round will be needed in great quantities.   While the Catholic bishops, nationalist opinion and the Irish government are critical, I get the impression that the ground is falling under the feet.

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