A call by former Secretary of State Peter Hain for an amnesty for all those guilty of Troubles-related offences has met with anger from victims – and has been roundly rejected by his own party.
Mr Hain said yesterday that he understood that his proposal would make victims and survivors of the Troubles “desperately angry” but argued that it was vital if Northern Ireland were to stop being “stalked” by its past.
“I think there should be an end to all conflict-related prosecutions,” he told The Times. “That should apply to cases pre-dating the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. This is not desirable in a normal situation. You would never dream of doing this in England, Scotland and Wales – but the Troubles were never normal.
“You can keep going back all the time and you can keep looking over your shoulder or turning around all the time, but what that does is take you away from addressing the issues of now and the issues of the future.”
He added: “This is not going to go away. It’s going to continue stalking the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the entire body politic there. The past just stalks them and they’re either going to confront it and deal with it together or they’re going to continue to be stalked by it.”
Last month he called for a halt to the criminal investigation into the Bloody Sunday shootings.
Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United said their answer to Mr Hain was the same as when Attorney General John Larkin floated the same idea – “no”. “Peter Hain and Tony Blair have been empowered to bastardise the criminal justice system for the years in which New Labour presided over the ‘peace process’,” he said.
“For them their political legacies trump the requirement for justice and truth processes to be worked through within society.”
Labour itself also rejected Mr Hain’s call. Ivan Lewis MP, Shadow Secretary of State, called for “a victim-centred approach” and said that Labour’s position “is clear”.
He said victims and their loved ones should have the right to choose from “a range of options” which may involve “an element of limited immunity in some circumstances. However, an across the board amnesty would leave the wounds of the past festering and undermine the reconciliation which is a crucial element of progress towards a shared future,” he added.
DUP MLA Arlene Foster said Mr Hain’s comments may have been made to distract from the on the run deal struck between Sinn Fein and the Labour Government of which Mr Hain was a part.
“Whilst the odds of securing convictions for the atrocities which blighted Northern Ireland are low, and the perpetrator would serve no more than two years in prison, there is still some hope for families that they might see some justice served,” she said.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said the proposal shows “a very poor understanding” of victims. “For far too many the devastation of the terrorism that changed their lives forever has been followed by a feeling of being ignored by the state and its services,” he said.
“There is a world of difference between acknowledging how unlikely it is that there will many more successful prosecutions for Troubles-related terrorism, and slamming the door shut on the possibility.”
Alliance MP Naomi Long said Mr Hain’s comments were “not helpful” and said her party has “consistently opposed any amnesty”. Alliance calls for a clear and transparent method so victims “would not be denied justice,” she said.
Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International Northern Ireland said it was “regrettable that senior politicial representatives continue to show such disregard for one of the abiding lessons of conflict resolution: one cannot build a stable peace on a rocky foundation of injustice”.