No moral reason why an amnesty can’t be offered

No moral reason why an amnesty can’t be offered
Brian Feeney

ON SUNDAY the outgoing police ombudsman suggested there should he an amnesty offered to people who agree to disclose their involvement in Troubles-related incidents. Al Hutchinson knows it’s a controversial topic and perhaps that’s why his suggestion was reticent, not thought out, even woolly.

He talked about amnesty being “conditional” which is just nonsense. By definition an amnesty is an amnesty. He suggested there would be no ‘blanket’ amnesty and that any amnesty would be subject lathe wishes of the victim.

So would it be legally binding? How could an individual offer an amnesty? Could the victim change his or her mind halfway through the process?

Perhaps because his suggestions were so poorly framed and incoherent, perhaps because the retiring ombudsman did not endear himself to nationalists and he is now a if the British government does not bye-ball. No-one took him up on his remarks. That’s a pity because, however unsuccessfully, he was addressing a self-evident truth, that the people who suffered most and it’s this. Under the present arrangements it will be impossible to investigate all the killings that took place between 1968 and 1998.

The 1998 date is because any killings relatives and friends died before the Good Friday Agreement are covered by what was in effect, though the British government would deny it a partial amnesty, that is to say a maximum two years sentence for anyone subsequently convicted no matter what they did.

One of the matters which constantly frustrated the departing ombudsman was the continuing demands for his office to investigate events a generation and more ago. These demands came particularly from nationalists disgusted at the growing evidence of systematic conspiracy between the security forces, especially RUC Special Branch and loyalist killers.

The ombudsman did not have the money, manpower or time to cope with these demands alongside the daily requirements of his office to deal with present complaints, minor and major, against the PSNI. No ombudsman’s office is devised to investigate both the present and a past with thousands of unsolved killings.

Alongside the ombudsman’s office the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has also been conducting investigations, to the outside observer apparently without rhyme or reason.

One investigation may deal with loyalist killings, another with the IRA, yet another with the British army.

Investigations have been dealing with events 30 years apart.

The HET does not start at the beginning and work its way systematically through the pile.

What we do know is that the HET will never finish because it’s going to be wound up next year.

At present there are at least 1,500 cases outstanding! Then what?

In short there is no single integrated process for examining killings during the Troubles. At the root of this predicament is a stand-off between Sinn Fein and the British government as each insists on its own framework for the investigation of those events in the past.

Sinn Fein demands that the British acknowledge involvement as combatants and hold an inquiry under some international or United Nations auspices.

The British government has no intention of accepting that the IRA was an anti-colonial army and furthermore will not permit any operatives from the security services, MIS or MI6 logo before an inquiry.

So far Sinn Fein has been winning the propaganda war precisely because the British have avoided an all-embracing approach but instead have adopted a piecemeal process, incident by incident – McGurk’s bar, Loughinisland, next Ballymurphy?

Every time it’s an own goal – the state or its agents or both were to blame either wilfully or negligently.

By contrast where the IRA was the perpetrator and the inquiry concludes they did it, well, we knew that. After all, that’s what the IRA was for. And what?

If the British government was prepared to release dozens of prisoners with life sentences in 2000 then there is no moral or logical reason why it can’t offer an amnesty to people involved in events before 1998.

The only objection is political but if the British government does not offer an amnesty to all concerned it is clear beyond peradventure that the people who suffered most during the conflict will never discover the details of how their relatives and friends died.

On all these matters the present British government exhibits lack of moral fibre.