Larkin stands by amnesty proposal

John Larkin QC, Attorney General for Northern Ireland. Picture: Michael Cooper
John Larkin QC, Attorney General for Northern Ireland. Picture: Michael Cooper

Attorney General John Larkin has stood over his controversial call for a de facto amnesty for Troubles killers.

But Mr Larkin stressed his respect for the “decency” of ordinary people who in small but profound ways stood against terrorism – such as the Protestant workmen massacred at Kingsmill – who he said helped stop Northern Ireland “going over the edge” during the Troubles.

In his first interview since suggesting in November that politicians should agree to stop prosecuting anyone for Troubles’ crimes before 1998, Mr Larkin did not apologise for or retract any of his comments which provoked criticism from every party in the Stormont Executive.

But he stressed that without political support his “proposal” would “change nothing” in terms of inquests, police inquiries or prosecutions and these would continue as normal, despite his publicly-stated views.

He said: “If politicians agree that it would be desirable to have new legislation, then change will take place.

“In the meantime, while these changes are being discussed, nothing changes.”

He said that victims are entitled to be treated with respect but also with honesty.

“It is not helpful, I think, that false or unreasonable expectations are held out to them. Right now, it is absolutely true to say that they have those hopes. How realistic they are, is another matter.”

But despite drawing intense criticism from politicians over his comments, Mr Larkin insisted that politics was a “noble” vocation and said that in his experience of MLAs from all parties they were genuinely motivated to build a better society.

In a wide-ranging interview with music broadcaster Tommy Sands to be aired tonight on Downtown Radio, Mr Larkin recalled his childhood at the Blessed Oliver Plunkett Primary School in Andersonstown and said it had been He said it had been “a great honour” to be appointed the first local Attorney General since the restoration of devolution and described it as “the best law job, I think, in this jurisdiction”.

Speaking during an appearance on the Country Ceili programme, which was recorded before Christmas, Mr Larkin admitted that “views will vary as to the extent to which greater truth is likely” from those who killed even if they are given immunity from prosecution but that it could “create a climate where the truth may be possible to an extent to which it is not possible currently”.

He added: “I firmly believe in the existence of objective truth. I think the problem comes in trying to discover it. It’s not that there are several truths; there is one truth but there are varying perceptions of it.”

Mr Larkin said that Northern Ireland suffered greatly but that the violence was restrained by factors including entwined roots between both communities, common experiences and “a common decency”, adding: “It stopped us going over the edge”.

“For me, one of the great exemplars of that is in the Kingsmill massacre when whenever there’s that grisly interrogation ‘Any Catholics on the bus?’ or words to that effect and the first reaction of the Protestant workmen who were murdered is to think that this is a sectarian attack on Catholics and to attempt to conceal the presence of their Catholic workmate.

“I think it was the spirit that you saw of those dead men that exemplifies the kind of factors that stopped us becoming like Bosnia.”

During the interview Mr Larkin remembered his Catholic grandfather being startled to see his own father — a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians — parading down Portadown’s Main Street in the 1920s playing a Lambeg drum for an Orange band.

The Attorney General said: “The Orange band were stuck on this particular day and my great grandfather, an enthusiastic drummer, helped them out.”

* Country Ceili will be broadcast on Downtown Radio on Friday (03/01/14) at 9pm.