The Troubles Killings

November 21, 2013 by  

The Troubles Killings, The attorney general of Northern Ireland, John Larkin, has said there should be no more police investigations of, nor inquests or inquiries into, Troubles-related killings that occurred before the Good Friday agreement, whether perpetrated by members of paramilitary groups, police or the armed forces.

His comments have sparked outrage. Amnesty International has called it “an utter betrayal of victims’ fundamental right to justice”. Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour party has said victims were “entitled to justice irrespective of the lapse of time”.

After three decades of violence by paramilitary groups, police and armed forces, ceasefires repeatedly agreed and then broken, and more than 50,000 casualties, including about 3,500 deaths, the Good Friday agreement – now 15 years old – all but ended the Troubles. This vital step in the peace process required compromise; one of the most controversial being the early release of more than 400 convicted terrorists. The sight of vicious killers walking free from life sentences to be met by cheering, champagne-swilling supporters was not easy viewing. However, most recognised that waiving of justice for a few hundred people was a price worth paying for the long-term stability of a whole region. That is why I support Larkin’s calls for an end to prosecutions, inquests or inquiries into Troubles-related killings that took place before the Good Friday agreement.

In reality, his comments not only reflect the spirit of the agreement, they also recognise the increasing impracticality of getting to the bottom of such killings.

The Good Friday agreement incorporates the 1997 arms decommissioning law, which states that weapons surrendered by paramilitary groups cannot be forensically tested for use in criminal prosecutions. Similarly, any information that leads to the discovery of the “The Disappeared” – the bodies of people murdered by paramilitary groups and buried in unknown locations – can only be used to identify remains, not in criminal trials.

This means that crucial forensic evidence, pivotal to securing convictions, cannot even be obtained, let alone used in court. As a result, the chance of victims’ families getting justice in the form of a criminal conviction is low and getting lower.

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