Anger at call to draw line under past Northern killings

AG John Larkin said his call for no prosecutions was “logical” outworking of Belfast Agreement

Northern Ireland’s Attorney General has been widely criticised after he proposed an end to all prosecutions, public inquiries and inquests into Troubles-related killings up to the Belfast Agreement of 1998.

Numerous victims' groups and Northern Ireland politicians condemned his proposals, while the response from Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British prime minister David Cameron was lukewarm.

Mr Kenny, while saying it might not be helpful for him to comment, nonetheless said, “I think it would be difficult for families on either side of the dark time in Northern Ireland if you were to follow, for instance, that advice and put in place what the Attorney General recommended and if you were to find subsequently incontrovertible DNA evidence of the involvement of person or persons in the killing on either side.”

Mr Larkin, legal adviser to the Northern Executive, said his proposal was a “logical” consequence of the Belfast Agreement and it was time to think about drawing a line under the past.


He highlighted the difficulty of securing criminal convictions for past killings and other crimes relating to the Troubles.

"Any criminal lawyer will tell you the prospects of a successful conviction grow less and less with each passing year," he said. "There is a law of diminishing returns," he added in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph.

To provide access to the truth for victims of the conflict, Mr Larkin said "there should be a huge public facilitation of access to state records, above and beyond what is currently available under freedom of information legislation".

Mr Larkin’s proposal is viewed with scepticism in Dublin, where it is seen as presenting serious practical problems, raising questions as to who would set parameters for any amnesty and where the line should be drawn as to the inclusion or exclusion of unsolved crimes.

Fianna Fáil said it opposed any amnesty. “The least that victims and the vast majority of people in the North, who had no part to play in violence should expect, is that certain basic standards of decency should prevail and that where possible, the victims of paramilitary and state violence should be entitled to the truth,” said foreign affairs spokesman Brendan Smith.

'Rule of law'
Mr Cameron told MPs it would be "rather dangerous" to block possible prosecutions. "We are all democrats who believe in the rule of law, who believe in the independence of the police and prosecuting authorities, and they should, if they are able to, be able to bring cases," he said.

Mr Larkin's proposal, which the DUP said was not put to the Northern Executive, comes as US envoy Dr Richard Haass engages in intensive negotiations with the main parties in Northern Ireland to try and achieve a Christmas agreement on how to deal with the past and also parades and flags.

While much of the reaction was hostile, a minority of victims saw some merit in Mr Larkin's proposals. Former Northern secretary Peter Hain and NI21 leader Basil McCrea expressed support.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times