Historic court cases and disputes over the legacy of the Troubles are in the news every day.
The summary of responses to the consultation on the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) proposals on legacy was published on Friday. However, significant reconciliation in a continuing corrosive ethnic dispute is unobtainable.
Ignoring the past does not deal with the dominant reality that Sinn Fein operates to rewrite history and promote equivalence between the IRA and the state’s armed services. This is lawfare and it will not permit coming together or healing of wounds.
In those circumstances, I think it hardly worth contemplating the Stormont House set-up.
I long favoured drawing a line under the past, utilising John Larkin, the attorney general’s ideas, like a stay on prosecutions. We have already large elements of amnesty in government actions since 1998, like early releases and On The Runs letters.
I don’t think amnesty is necessarily outwith the Strasbourg convention and Article 2 (which protects right to life and is cited as a reason for investigations in which the state is implicated in deaths).
There are convoluted discussions to be had about Article 2. These are areas largely for lawyers.
A vigorous response from the London government and Foreign Office lawyers would be welcome. The apparent NIO veto currently imposed on Downing Street policy could be broken.
Campaigns around veteran prosecutions are the first time Northern Ireland has intruded upon the politics of Great Britain, and are to be welcomed.
The solution, be it a statute of limitations (unlikely) or whatever, is as elusive as one for Brexit.
The outgoing chief constable’s remarks on amnesty etc are in tune with other senior officials — not that any will do anything about it. When asked if an amnesty, should apply to everyone, he said “Personally, I don’t believe in it but I could live with it... that’s part of living in a post-conflict society.”
The lord chief justice of Northern Ireland recently stated there are many ways to meet Article 2, although only Stormont House and inquests are currently under consideration. He said, “Article 2 is not confined to public inquiries. There are myriad different ways in which one could have attempted to satisfy the Article 2 requirements in Northern Ireland” (News Letter, June 8, see link below).
Sir Declan has majored on completing outstanding inquests at a million pounds a throw but as John Larkin has indicated, every previous inquest could be re-opened if we apply today’s standards to the past.
They will not complete for decades, if ever.
My memory of how we got into the concept of investigating or re-opening inquests on every death since 1968 is unclear, other than Historical Enquiries Team being a proposal to deal with Sinn Fein demands, placating Strasbourg and thinking this could address the needs of victims.
It can’t and won’t.
Why should people in Northern Ireland have this privilege when it is not on offer in Britain, except in rare cases like Hillsborough and the Birmingham bombs (where no inquest was held)? The police should be funded to do what police do — investigate crime but not reopen cold cases on request.
Whether a line is drawn or the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) etc comes into existence, lawfare will continue unabated. It will in fact accelerate.
The HIU will not stop the torrent of civil suits, judicial reviews, appeals for new inquests or Strasbourg cases.
Alleged collusion or historic failure of police to act by today’s standards means tens of thousands of compensation cases can be undertaken while judicial rulings in Belfast continue to depart from UK precedent.
None of this can be prevented by drawing a line. We will have to live with it but government should not make it worse by doubling the cost and the legal and academic industrial output (and related career enhancements) by implementing the SHA.
Jeffrey Dudgeon, Belfast BT9