Do not let desire for revenge and false promises of hope become how we paint our future

There simply isn’t enough evidence to convict someone of crimes from the Troubles because we can’t use forensics on decommissioned weapons or victims remains. Why not? Because the Good Friday Agreement said we can’t. To get the weapons decommissioned, we agreed as a nation to not scour them for fingerprints and put the criminals who … Continue reading “Do not let desire for revenge and false promises of hope become how we paint our future”

There simply isn’t enough evidence to convict someone of crimes from the Troubles because we can’t use forensics on decommissioned weapons or victims remains. Why not? Because the Good Friday Agreement said we can’t. To get the weapons decommissioned, we agreed as a nation to not scour them for fingerprints and put the criminals who used them behind bars. We, as a nation, agreed this. We got a vote. I’m guessing that most people didn’t read the detail but you can be absolutely sure that the politicians in the Executive, those who are loudly condemning this concept, were well aware of the implications.

As a result we’re going to have to rely on confessions and witness testimonials which, without hard evidence, are going to be challenged. And who’s going to come up and confess now if they haven’t for the last forty years?

The NI Attorney General thinks we should draw a line under crimes from the Troubles and stop chasing the unachievable. Politicians are, for the most part up in arms because their own hard line support comes from people whose way of thinking is tainted with winning a victory over “themmuns”. The problem being that there are “themmuns” on both sides and no-one is confessing or giving witness, not even some of the politicians who would be “in the know”. The very same politicians who are opposed to stopping investigations.

He’s not suggesting that we forget or forgive. This is a blunt instrument to create debate about how we deal with the past. Of course this is timely, with the Haass Talks. But someone needed to say it. It needed to be put on the table so it could set a marker on how we debate the concepts.

Thirty years ago a crime was committed again my family which we still deal with. It changed our lives irrevocably. I have come to terms with the fact that the police will never convict someone for that crime. They have their suspicions (which cover just about everyone from the milkman to the recent Canadian astronaut) but they will never, ever convict anyone. And that’s because there isn’t the evidence and, quite simply, there isn’t the time and resource.

People who say that you can’t put a price on justice are liars. We put a price on these things all the time. Politicians who court victims groups and promise justice are liars. They’re using the pain of victims as a political tool.

We need to do more for victims, this is plain. But there are better ways of dealing with this. Appropriate memorials of all victims. The young who did not grow up with the Troubles as a constant backdrop deserve better than we are getting now. How are we going to build a future when our eyes are fixated on the past?

Apart from my family history, there are apparently 3000 unsolved murders from the “Troubles”. Even if you allocated 3000 police investigators to those crimes you would not results. There is no evidence, there is nothing to investigate.

This is not about airbrushing over the pain of victims and their families. This is about not letting a desire for revenge and false promises of hope become how we paint our future.

6 thoughts on “Do not let desire for revenge and false promises of hope become how we paint our future”

  1. Once again Matt is pushing the agenda of a political party here, NI21.

    The news today of an army squad operating in NI shooting unarmed civilians MUST be investigated by the police. Then a decision must be made by those who know more than you or the AG, whether or not a conviction is viable. Matt would have this not even investigated. A disgrace.

    The spirit of the Good Friday agreement was NOT a blanket amnesty for criminals. It was very much sold that it would only deal with those convicted. So this is a change from the spirit of that Agreement.

    In a democracy victims have a right to see those who committed crimes that were never convicted be investigated. I see no reason why this is to stop.

    The AG reflect very few peoples opinions, from human rights groups to the PM, to many people in NI. It’s only those who want to come across as ‘different’ and ‘thinking outside of the box’ that are so far supporting the opinion.

    Just because your family has given up on a conviction doesn’t mean the family down the road don’t hope every day that some new evidence will come to light (even if its by a BBC team) that may mean some justice in the future. Is it extremely difficult? Yes. Should we have at least the right to investigate, absolutely.

    The AG should have put this forward to politicians and Haas as a submission from an individual. He is completely abusing his position with such statements.

    Let’s leave it to the proper authorities to judge on a case by case basis whether a conviction is likely.

    1. Firstly, I’m not promoting the agenda of a political party. I don’t need to wait for anyone to brief me on these things and I wouldn’t accept it in the first place. That NI21 has agreed that this should be open for debate is laudable because the alternative is “no debate”. My public statements on this pre-date any statements from NI21.

      In a democracy, we should have the right to decide on these proposals. We VOTED for the Good Friday Agreement and it was in the Spirit and Letter of the Agreement (and legislation in 1997 and 1999 on decommissioned weapons and victims remains) that there would be no forensic investigation of these artefacts. I didn’t say the GFA was a blanket amnesty – but it did let anyone who was in prison for so-called political crimes out of prison early. That included murderers. It was difficult, it was unpalatable and it was agreed to by the people of Northern Ireland. Democracy prevailed.

      And you think you were sold something else? Did you read it? The text of the Good Friday Agreement was written by humans, monitored by humans, evaluated, debated, modified, amended, changed and eventually agreed. This wasn’t something that was in unseen small print. People want justice but the evidence to secure that justice was sold to get peace. And we have been living in that peace.

      And even if it did happen. Even if the confession and testimony was supported by evidence, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, they’d only get 2 years. Would the victims of the troubles consider that to be justice? Would two years of imprisonment justify the hardships of my family? Absolutely not.

      It would be undemocratic NOT to have this debate. It would be undemocratic for this not to be tabled because it clearly is on the minds of many and yet their voices are not being heard. We can all have sympathy but it is dishonest to promise justice while knowing that it can never happen.

      On the Nolan Show this morning, Stephen said that the AG may have put the future of Northern Ireland ahead of his career prospects. It’s likely he’s counting the days. He’s already been rebuked for this and will likely get a dressing down from senior politicians but, again I stress, in a democracy the rights and views of the individual should be inviolable as should the independence of the judiciary and police from political meddling.

      This won’t get accepted by all. But it puts the debate on the table and it gives us a reference point to start. At the other extreme is dedicating the vast majority of policing resources to investigating unsolvable crimes. As we are in a democracy, the reality will be realised as a compromise somewhere on the spectrum between these two extremes.

      And for your reference, we haven’t given up anything. We accept that it will never happen. That is an important difference. But in a hundred years, we’ll be long dead and no-one will care.

  2. There is a lot of people, like myself, who didn’t get to vote for the Good Friday Agreement. So I wasn’t sold anything. But I remember at the time the debate around those in prison and those on the run etc.

    And I also remember the very valid points by victims groups around why events like Bloody Sunday had to be investigated. There must be some attempt at justice. Even if we have tied ourselves to that being limited.

    Your points about what the GFA meant and the ‘spirit’ of the agreement are all well understood at this point. However they bear little relation to the argument that investigations should not take place around incidents in which no one has yet been convicted.

    In my opinion, if that was in the Agreement, or even in the spirit of the agreement, the GFA would have had much more trouble getting through. It may still have gone through, but many would feel that that was a bridge too far.

    Having a debate is fine. But the AG showed a complete lack of sensitivity to victims and to the stomach of the general public by starting this debate right now. The fact that he took it upon himself while in his current role is unacceptable. If he has these views when not in this post, so be it. But not while in this particular role and at this time. Resign and then make your point if you feel so badly that it must be made.

    People don’t just cut off the past. We are not computers. You can’t simply forget the past because its economically better for NI. We are here today with all the scars and open wounds of the past. It’s who we are.

    The desire by the victims to see justice, however faint a hope that is, shouldn’t not be linked to trying to build a brighter future for NI. Both can be achieved. The victims are not stopping progress. They can’t simply forget the past, and they WANT justice. They may well never get that, and I’m sure many understand that, be what sort of place are we, when we tell victims that we have decided to no longer investigate crimes, no matter what evidence may be presented.

    The AG has done a great disservice to his role and to NI by linking victims, justice and the GFA in this way.

    1. An attempt at justice is exactly the sort of sop that will not satiate the needs of victims families. Even if convicted the murderers will serve only two years.

      We need to be honest with victims. There will be no justice. It’s just not possible. And if they want truth then they’ll have to abandon the idea of a conviction.

      What the AG has done is reset the terms of reference.

  3. Great article Matt and I couldn’t agree with you more. The Good Friday Agreement was the first time I was old enough to vote, for me and my friends who all grew up in the republican stronghold of the lower falls and had all experienced terrorism first hand in form or another we seen this as our generations chance for peace and to draw a line under the past. Now 15 or so years later all politicians (not the forward thinking ones) want to is dig up the past and point fingers.

    Yes there is blame on both sides and I do feel sorry for families who lost relatives and need closure but this whole country need closure. It needs to look to provide a peaceful future for the next generations and you can’t do that by looking backwards.

    1. Cheers, John.

      It makes me despair that so much of the last 12 months has been dedicated to flags, emblems, parades and dealing with the past. One thing is clear – we’ve been dealing with the past for all of our lives. What we’ve been doing ain’t working and it would be madness to keep doing it and expecting a different result.

      I have faith in the young. They are not burdened with bitterness. Not yet anyway.

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