The most strident opponent of the UK government’s legacy proposals is Sinn Féin, even though members of their wider movement who (highest crime/lowest conviction ratio) stand to benefit most. Go figure?
As Hamlet’s mother Queen Gertrude famously drily noted, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks”. It’s all a little bit too careful, too shrewd and too forceful to be entirely convincing.
The same party has been porting concessions out of successive British administrations for years which pretty much amount to the same thing this British government is attempting to do.
We know from the OTR letters of comfort case that no less a figure than Gerry Adams argued in a private letter to Tony Blair that it was in the public interest that no one should be prosecuted for pre 1998 crimes.
Yesterday Newton Emerson offered this perceptive take on the response of most parties to the government’s proposals in The Irish Times:
…most positions on this issue are one-sided at best, two-faced at worst.
At every level, rejections shamelessly cancel out. All Stormont’s political parties oppose the legislation, currently being rushed through Westminster. But unionists object only to an amnesty for terrorists; Sinn Féin to an amnesty for former security force personnel.
Protecting soldiers is the Conservative government’s blatant agenda. Successive Irish governments have operated “a unilateral amnesty for the IRA”, as former minister for justice Michael McDowell confirmed last year. There were theatrical intakes of breath at this statement of the blindingly obvious.
Washington has condemned the proposals, yet US governments were supportive and even involved in similar amnesties for decommissioning and the retrieval of victims’ remains, using the same mechanism of immunity for testimony in the new legislation.
As Newton notes “the intention was for a blanket ban on all investigations, prosecutions and trials, criminal and civil” has been dropped. But the means for discovering prosecutable cases no longer exists:
Anyone paying more than passing attention to this issue recalls the fate of the Historical Enquiries Team, an interim body shut down in 2014 because it suited republicans and the PSNI to do away with it.
Former chief constable Sir Hugh Orde, who created the team to get investigations under way ahead of a full legacy agreement, has described its closure as “a massive mistake”.
Had it kept going, every Troubles murder would have been reviewed by 2019, perhaps in time for even cases from the early 1970s to be plausibly referred for further action.
It is too late to start again. Dealing with the past is literally becoming an academic exercise.
Writing in the Irish News on the March findings of the second of three polls, Professor Peter Shirlow shared this interesting finding:
A minority of unionist (47.6 per cent) trust the British government to provide full disclosure to a truth or information retrieval process. Similarly, only 37.7 per cent of nationalists are confident republicans would provide veracity.
Here we locate the power of silence that subverts truths emergence and an inter-community reaction that truth must but will not arise. Most know the stakes are high concerning political and institutional reputation. Yet, the holders of truth demand truth while not finding ways to deliver it.
In terms of approach, 57.4 per cent want to maintain the current judicial system of police investigations, prosecutions, inquests and civil actions. 60.8 per cent wish to maintain that method but also set up a Historical Investigations Unit and an Independent Commission while 40.4 per cent support a general amnesty ending all prosecutions, inquests and civil actions.
However, only 27.8 per cent of unionists, 23.1 per cent of nationalists and 31.2 per cent of neither agreed that these proposals provide the means for families to get information about conflict related incidents. [Emphasis added]
So barely any one believes the current means can work, since ‘their own side’ will not assist the process. So the protests are little more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty