The IRA was in win-win situation and an amnesty was the UK response

News Letter editorial of Thursday July 15 2021:

Thursday, 15th July 2021, 9:00 am
Updated Thursday, 15th July 2021, 11:57 am
News Letter editorial

The de facto amnesty announced by the government yesterday is a major victory for the IRA.

Sinn Fein of course have howled in protest at the government’s plans, and part of their outrage is genuine.

After all, it is natural that the republican movement would have been happy with the status quo on legacy, in which vast resources were put into multiple investigations into UK state forces who prevented civil war.

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Republicans were barely being investigated at all, and insofar as they were subject to some probes (for example as part of the PSNI legacy investigative caseload) it all seemed to be leading to tiny numbers of prosecutions.

Trials of security forces, however, were perhaps only in their infancy, because many of the other investigations into the state — by the ombudsman, by inquests, by the PSNI, in civil actions, in inquiries, and by groups who examine state papers — could potentially have led to many more files being sent to prosecutors on elderly retired former police officers and soldiers.

But the republican movement is also very pleased with an amnesty. After all, republican terrorists killed 60% of the Troubles dead, and while there seemed to be great difficulty in having them made to account for their bloodshed, the possibility of such prosecutions must have caused them a degree of anxiety.

It has long seemed that republicans were in a win-win situation. In that respect, the current UK government inherited a very thorny legacy problem, which was not easily resolved.

Every time it talked about some sort of stay on prosecutions, it was furiously reminded of its obligations, when a host of other people with big questions to answer over the past have been able to neglect their own responsibilities.

Even so, an amnesty is a step too far. It equates state forces with terrorists, and shuts the door on prosecutions of paramilitaries guilty of many heinous, calculated crimes.

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