A victim of the Enniskillen bomb has likened Tony Blair and Peter Hain to Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister who infamously declared in 1938 that he had secured “peace in our time” after appeasing Hitler.
Aileen Quinton, whose elderly mother was murdered in the 1987 Remembrance Day atrocity, said that she was dismayed to learn about the secret ‘comfort letters’ sent to IRA fugitives under a scheme overseen by Mr Hain and other senior members of Tony Blair’s Government.
Over the last week, Mr Hain has repeatedly defended what he did when in Government because Northern Ireland now has relative peace.
But Ms Quinton told the News Letter: “Chamberlain justified it like that as well.
“I personally believe the world is a much more dangerous place because of the appeasement [of the IRA].”
In 1938, Mr Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement had considerable support, though within a year Germany had invaded Poland and Britain had entered what would become the Second World War.
Chamberlain was replaced by Winston Churchill and ‘appeasement’ is now used as a term of derision.
Ms Quinton said that, just as appeasement had encouraged Hitler, so the suggestion that terrorism can work was fuelling fresh conflicts: “Al Qaeda, etc, have seen what has happened and anywhere where terrorism is appeased gives support to terrorists because what terrorism needs in order to succeed is the belief that it will get somewhere.
“The message that has been given out is that you have to murder for as long as possible. It doesn’t mean that you will get everything you want but even the fact that you will get anything you’re not entitled to if you murder enough people is a very dangerous message and adds to the danger in the world.”
She said that the initial attempt to get an amnesty for terrorists on the run – eventually withdrawn in Parliament by Mr Hain in 2005 – had been handled in a “mind-bogglingly crass” way which was “dismissive” to those who suffered most as a result of terrorist actions.
She said that the process had made clear to her that victims are “absolutely at the bottom of the heap” but she was shocked to discover last week that the issue had not ended when the amnesty bill was withdrawn from Parliament.
“We knew they would try to bring it back but we didn’t think that they’d do it in secret. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe them capable of it – there are no depths of betrayal and treason that I would consider Blair would not stoop to – but I just didn’t believe it would be legally possible.
“I also was under no illusion that it had been stopped because of the forces of decent people arguing against it; it only failed because Sinn Fein withdrew support – that’s what mattered, not what innocent victims said.”
She added: “It shouldn’t be up to victims to have to defend and champion basic principles of justice; actually, that should have been Blair’s job.”
Speaking of the phrase ‘letters of comfort’ used in Mr Justice Sweeney’s judgment in the Downey case, Ms Quinton said: “It was so important that terrorist suspects get comfort – there’s precious little comfort for victims.”
Ms Quinton said that she was “very sceptical” about the inquiry announced last week by Prime Minister David Cameron, adding: “I just think that too many people have got a vested interest in just keeping the lid on things and there is so much truth that people don’t want to come out.”
Ms Quinton said that she believed David Cameron’s “instincts in terms of terrorism are probably sound” but said that she was “sceptical about what he will actually do”.
Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State has refused to apologise for his party’s central role in setting up the scheme which sent ‘letters of comfort’ to IRA fugitives.
Ivan Lewis said: “Some have suggested the UK Government and more specifically my party should recant for the introduction of the so called on the run administrative scheme.
“I cannot accept this despite the understandable anger some have expressed.”
He added: “It would be a failure of leadership and integrity to be retrospectively selective about key elements of a historic peace process which ended 30 years of violence and terror.”
Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Lewis did say that “we owe the families of the victims of the Hyde Park bombings both answers and an unequivocal apology” but made clear that the apology should be for “the catastrophic error” in wrongly issuing a letter to John Downey – not the fact that the letters were being issued at all.
Mr Lewis went on to say that there “should be no attempt to suggest moral equivalence” between terrorists killed by their own actions and their innocent victims.
And he disagreed with Peter Hain’s call for the Bloody Sunday soldiers to be given a de facto amnesty.