There is now potential for the Haass talks to propose limited immunity for those who committed crimes during the Northern conflict after First Minister Peter Robinson said he wasn't averse to considering some form of immunity in return for the truth about Troubles-related killings.
Former DUP minister Sammy Wilson made a similar point yesterday when he said he would support such immunity if it were requested by victims of the Troubles. This would be to facilitate them learning the truth about how their loved ones were killed or injured, or about how they themselves were maimed or injured.
The talks are moving up a notch after US diplomat Dr Richard Haass yesterday travelled to Dublin to brief Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore on how the talks on the past, parades and flags are progressing. He will brief Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers in London on Monday.
Dr Haass also hasn't ruled out presenting the Northern Ireland parties with his estimate of the best way to deal with parades, flags and the past. He has also asked the parties to consider the merits of devising a flag acceptable to both main communities in Northern Ireland.
Dr Haass and his chief assistant, Harvard professor Meghan O'Sullivan, have been pressing ahead all this week with their talks with the North's five main parties with the aim of reaching agreement by Christmas or shortly thereafter. The recent proposal by the North's Attorney General, John Larkin, that there could be an effective amnesty for those who carried out killings and other crimes during the Troubles in return for truth telling about these actions triggered controversy.
However, Dr Haass has now brought the idea of a limited immunity onto the table with Mr Robinson and the former DUP minister for finance indicating they would seriously consider such a proposal.
“I think we need to look at what he’s saying by way of immunity – is that immunity for all time over those actions, or is it a limited immunity, such as we have for instance with the decommissioning legislation,” Mr Robinson said earlier this week. “I think we’ll look at what the proposition is and judge it when we see the detail,” he told the BBC.
Mr Wilson said such limited immunity could be acceptable were it requested by victims to help them learn the truth. He said it would be very difficult to deny any victim who said “this is the only way that we believe we can get the information which will deal with the hurt which we have experienced”.
Also in Dublin yesterday was former US senator George Mitchell who was being honoured for his role in the decommissioning process. President Michael D Higgins presented him with a Presidential Distinguished Service Award.