If terrorists win damages, we must try to recoup it for victims

Trevor Ringland, the former Ireland rugby international and politician

Trevor Ringland, the former Ireland rugby international and politician

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It is truly incredible the amount of what is perhaps best described as grace that has been shown by wider society to those who caused mayhem and terrible tragedy to too many in Northern Ireland.

There is certainly a lack of appreciation of it by many of the perpetrators of that violence as is evidenced by a six figure sum being paid to Danny Morrison, who promoted the sick ideology of “a gun in one hand and a ballot box in the other”.

Was the outcome of Sandy Lynch’s interrogation really going to be a press conference?

That lack of appreciation would also seem to be true of some in government. There is little evidence of humility as prominent republicans continue to justify the IRA’s campaign of violence and I have challenged a number of them at public meetings, as they tried to cast the “struggle” as a fight for civil rights.

As an eminent nationalist friend once told me truthfully, “there was nothing achieved through violence that could not have been achieved through peaceful means”.

Unionists should reflect on the fact that, in many ways, we deserved the civil rights movement. At its outset, it was about making Northern Ireland a better place and addressing some obvious wrongs in our society.

Neither unionism, nor any other part of our community, deserved a campaign of republican violence which was about overthrowing the rightful government and driving those of us who are British as well as Irish into the sea.

We cannot escape from the fact that Easter 1916 is a part of nationalist Ireland’s history. Nationalists assert that they had the right to fight for independence in that part of the island.

There are serious difficulties with that narrative, but irrespective of the debate about events 100 years ago, it is clear that, after partition, violence was never going to bring about either constitutional unity of the two parts of this island, and especially not the unity of its people.

Tragically, the Troubles should not have occurred and neither the republican movement nor its loyalist equivalent advanced their stated aims one iota during that time. If anything they undermined their respective causes.

As we’ve tried to move beyond that conflict, as a community we have struggled to accept many difficult aspects of its legacy; like the involvement of the state in some murders, the release of prisoners without decommissioning, an absence of justice for many victims and, more recently, as referred to above, perpetrators and promoters of violence bringing civil actions and compensation claims against the state.

Whatever the technical merits of these claims, compensation in all the circumstances is morally wrong. Surely the community needs to have confidence that we are moving beyond the moral compromises of the past and beginning to reset our moral compass, for the benefit of future generations?

Civil actions by former paramilitaries should be proactively resisted and, if needs be, legislation to this effect could apply retrospectively, setting any award of damages and costs against the costs of the havoc visited on our society by loyalist or republican paramilitary violence.

If the state won’t act, then a consequence could well be ordinary victims taking actions against members and organisations in the republican movement, Sinn Fein in particular, or their loyalist equivalents.

A challenge could also be made to the state to use existing criminal compensation legislation to recoup monies paid out to victims from those who perpetrated violent crimes and are now in a position to pay, whether in person or through the movements they were a part of.