Terrorist immunity: Caution and opposition among politicians

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt
Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt

There was a very mixed reaction yesterday to DUP proposals to back an optional immunity for Troubles victims who may wish to avail of it.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said that the end of the current Haass process “is not truth and justice – but the truth”.

The search for the IRA’s Disappeared over 15 years had only turned up eight out of the 16 missing bodies, he said.

If that success rate was rolled out for a truth commission, he said “by 2028 we would only know half of what republicans did”, he told the Nolan Show.

He was “optimistic” about the Haass talks but suggested that a set of principles may emerge rather than “a deal”.

NI21 leader Basil McCrea said he supported Attorney General John Larkin’s proposal that a line be drawn under investigating all pre-1998 offences.

“Many people in our society will get neither truth nor justice unless we do something,” he said, adding: “We can only do what is practically possible.”

Mr McCrea said he expected a DUP-Sinn Fein deal with limited immunity to allow people to provide information.

SDLP MLA and negotiator in the talks, Alex Attwood, has said that any model of providing limited immunity must acknowledge the concerns of victims and survivors and must not become a “free for all”.

“The SDLP believes that existing justice mechanisms – criminal investigations, inquests and inquiries – cannot be compromised. These mechanisms must be exhausted and they must prevail,” he said. “However, there may be times and places where, not least given the limits of our justice mechanisms, victims and survivors will seek more information about past events. In these circumstances it may be possible to have a model of limited immunity.”

But UKIP MLA David McNarry took a different line.

“My assertion that Richard Haass had already written his report for the inglorious five party Executive coalition is proving true,” he said. “Only the tinsel decoration is to be added to his Christmas gift, wrapped in a concoction of toxic compromises. My forecast that the traps of concessions will unfold – is also proving true.” He claimed that unionists are “blind to the choreography and smitten by the charm offensive” and that they “have no exit strategy and few principles to stick with”.