In the latest essay in our series, KYLE BLACK says that being soft on terrorism is not just a legacy issue but an ongoing one (see below the article for a link to the rest of the series):
Dissident republicans in a drive-by shooting murdered my dad, David Black, when he was travelling to work at Maghaberry Prison on the 1st of November 2012.
Whilst my dad’s murder will not fall within the remit of the legacy proposals from an investigative viewpoint, I feel that his murder, along with others committed since 1998, should be considered as a key part of dealing with our troubled past.
There needs to be a focus on breaking the cycle of violence and intimidation to avoid a return to the intensity of terrorist activity seen in our past.
The use of violence by individuals to further their political objectives and ideologies never was and never will be acceptable.
However, it seems that there is no adequate deterrent being implemented through our judicial system for those who wish to return to the use of violence.
This has been seen on numerous occasions when dissident republicans have come before the courts on terrorist related charges.
For example, amendments to bail conditions to allow individuals awaiting trial to enjoy luxury spa weekends and go on holiday.
There have also been circumstances where bail conditions imposed have been broken by those awaiting trial with no punishment being imposed for these breaches, as was the case when Damien McLaughlin, who was awaiting trial for involvement in my dad’s murder.
He skipped bail over a three month period and absconded to the Republic of Ireland.
It took 12 months to locate and return him to this jurisdiction.
For this there was no punishment incurred.
What message does that send to others?
That bail is optional?
In the limited number of cases where convictions have been achieved against those guilty of terrorist-related offences, compared with those handed down for similar offences in other parts of the United Kingdom, sentences given to those convicted of terrorist-related offences in Northern Ireland have been extremely lenient.
Consider the brutal murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in London in May 2013.
His killers Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale were convicted with one sentenced to life and the other a minimum of 45 years.
Compare that with murders committed by dissident republicans in Northern Ireland in recent years.
Brendan McConville is serving a 25 year sentence and John Paul Wootton 18 years for involvement in the murder of PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll in 2009.
Brian Shivers was given a 25 year sentence for the murders of Mark Quincey and Patrick Azimkar also in 2009 before being overturned on appeal in 2013.
Why is there a difference between tariffs in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom?
If anything, I would have thought that due to Northern Ireland’s violent past, a tougher stance should be taken by the courts to try and ‘stamp out’ any return to politically-motivated violence.
In recent years, sentencing has also been manifestly lenient in cases of mercifully non-lethal terror crimes in Northern Ireland.
In 2016, Ardoyne man Conal Corbett was given an 18-month suspended sentence for his role in a bomb plot, believed to have been targeting police officers at a nearby flashpoint, which only failed when the explosives did not detonate.
In 2014 Toomebridge man Sean Kelly, who had a previous conviction for trying to plant a bomb under a police officer’s car, was given an indeterminate sentence for weapon possession and terror preparation after a firing range was uncovered in Co Tyrone — but was told he could be out in as little as five years (or even less, if time spent on remand is taken into account).
As for Damien McLaughlin — whose trial in relation to my father collapsed earlier this year — in 2009 he was caught in possession of silencers, sniper scopes, a shotgun, rifles (plural), and a range of ammunition.
He was sentenced to two years and three months in jail in June 2011 — but was nonetheless free by the end of the very same year.
These are just a couple of many such cases detailed in the News Letter in the past two years.
An important element of dealing with our country’s past is to take all steps possible to prevent any return to violence and to take a stand against those who wish to plunge us back into the darkness of terrorism.
We must have a watershed — terrorism must be rooted out of our society once and for all.
The UK government has developed defence policy in response to the threat posed by IS related terrorism, with a tough stance also being taken by the courts.
However, surely such a moral based approach is what is also needed in Northern Ireland, which ensures that all forms of terrorism and insurrection are treated with equal concern and response.
It has been enlightening for me as a 27-year-old to read and consider the many contributions to this legacy series, for me there has been a recurring theme, that the legacy proposals in their current format will not meaningfully address the outstanding issues, which continue to keep our society divided.
Society in Northern Ireland is currently fragile and many would say that this is the case due to the absence of a devolved power sharing administration.
There is a real sense of disengagement with the political process, and if we are not careful, those who wish to drag our society back to the point where violence once again rages could potentially fill this vacuum.
This reinforces the need for a robust stance to be taken against terrorism through laws, which seek to deter those who would consider using violence as a means to further their so-called political objectives.
All of us must commit to building our society, ensuring that we can all enjoy a better future together than the past from which we have come.