Politicians and police react to John Larkin’s Troubles proposals

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott
PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott

The Prime Minister’s office, Chief Constable and former Police Ombudsman have all given their reactions to Attorney General John Larkin’s controversial suggestion on an end to Troubles prosecutions.

Former Police Ombudsman Dame Nuala O’Loan said a halt on prosecutions would constitute a violation of international law.

Dame Nuala is currently working with barrister Richard Harvey, who was involved in the Bloody Sunday inquiry, on an independent review panel set up to monitor a major PSNI investigation into a string of Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) murders in north Belfast.

“We unreservedly condemn today’s suggestion by the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland,” Dame Nuala and Mr Harvey said in a joint statement.

“To abandon prosecutions, inquests or inquiries into killings that took place before the Good Friday Agreement would constitute a wholesale violation of the UK’s legal obligations under domestic and international law.

“It would cause untold distress to bereaved families and seriously undermine prospects for building confidence in the administration of justice, in particular in cases where there is evidence of potential collusion between elements in the security services and paramilitaries.”

They added: “We call on the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State, the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, and the Minister of Justice to repudiate the Attorney-General’s suggestion immediately and to confirm their support for the rule of law.”

Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP’s spokesman on victims’ issues, said Mr Larkin had not consulted the Northern Ireland Executive before making his comments.

“He made it clear this is his own viewpoint and it’s not one that we share,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The proposal would set an “extremely dangerous precedent” not just in the UK but across the free world, he said.

“Effectively what it requires you to do is to say that if you form a terrorist organisation and you go out and you murder people in cold blood then one day you will be granted an amnesty for those crimes,” he said.

“I don’t think the victims of 7/7 in London or 9/11 in New York would be up for an amnesty of this nature. There was certainly no amnesty for bin Laden so why should there be an amnesty for the IRA or for loyalist paramilitaries for the crimes they have committed?”

Downing Street poured cold water on suggestions of an amnesty.

Asked at a regular Westminster media briefing whether Number 10 would back the proposal to end prosecution of crimes from the Troubles, David Cameron’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister’s view is that the decisions around prosecutions are for the police and prosecuting authorities, based on the evidence that they have.

“His view is a long-standing one, that where relevant independent authorities have evidence, they should be able to take that forward in the way that they best judge.

“That remains his view. There is no change in that.”

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said while he welcomes debate on the subject, the matter on how to deal with legacy issues remains one for politicians to make a decision on.

“We welcome the debate into how we deal with the past and will study carefully what the Attorney General has said,” he said. “There is no doubt his views will also form part of the deliberations of Dr Richard Haass.

“It is well documented that the cost of policing the past has a massive impact on how we deal with the present and the future. Whilst we are committed to meeting our current legislative responsibilities, dealing with legacy issues continues to place significant pressure on our organisation and financial resources.

“Any new legislation to deal with issues of the past must be a matter for politicians to resolve.”