Oh dear. I’ve just switched off The Stephen Nolan Show (Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh), where Stephen is telling Raymond McCartney that Sinn Féin are wanting one rule for former IRA men, another rule for unionists. Clearly there’s still a lot of heat if not much light in the on-the-runs story. Maybe that’s because a number of matters haven’t been brought to the front of our thinking.
By the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, it was arranged that political prisoners be released – republican paramilitary prisoners, loyalist/unionist paramilitary prisoners. These were men who had been active during the conflict and convicted, in many instances, of killing people. So little justice there, you might say. But we all swallowed hard and accepted that this was necessary for peace. The OTRs, on the other hand, were not in prison. If they had been, they wouldn’t have been on the run. So they weren’t benefiting from the virtual amnesty that released paramilitary prisoners who were in prison. The letter deal aimed to resolve that, and was resolving it, until Peter of Clontibret’s jets suddenly got red-hot.
Some other matters to keep in mind. The on-the-runs were wanted for questioning about violent incidents. They may have been responsible for those violent incidents or they may not. We don’t know, so aren’t people who haven’t been convicted supposed to be presumed innocent until it’s otherwise shown? Yet the way the OTRs are talked about by Peter and Nigel and the other Hot Jets, you’d assume each and every one of these men had been tried and convicted.
So let’s go with that for a minute. The men receive a letter from the authorities here telling them they are not wanted for any crime by any police force. Are those sending the letters telling a blatant lie when they tell these men this? If so, shouldn’t there be more finger-pointing at people who tell official lies? If they are telling the truth, why the heat in so many jets?
The word ‘justice’ comes up in an article in this morning’s Irish Times, suggesting that these letters mean the loved ones of victims will not get justice. If the OTRs are guilty (not proven), then yes, that’s true, they won’t get justice. Just as the relatives of those killed by the paramilitaries released from Long Kesh won’t get justice. We’ve all known that for fifteen years now and we’ve accepted it as the price we have to pay as a society for peace. Why then are we being encouraged to be indignant on behalf of the relatives perhaps affected by actions of OTRs, when they received their letter? Assuming they are guilty – and it is only that as we’ve seen, an assumption – doesn’t it fall into the same category as the men released from Long Kesh?
The Attorney General John Larkin and now former Secretary of State Peter Hain have called for the non-prosecution of the soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday, a drawing of a line on all sides so we can move forward. Reluctantly, I agree. Not because I think Bloody Sunday falls into the same category as, say, the Warrenpoint massacre or the mortar-bombing of Newry police station. It doesn’t, for the very good reason that we demand that the people we pay to protect us don’t do the very opposite. But I go along with drawing a line because prosecuting the Bloody Sunday soldiers will never in a hundred years expose the people who really are responsible for that terrible day, because they were so high up the food chain, they were untouchable. Most Bloody Sunday relatives must know that.
So no, there hasn’t been justice and there won’t be justice. But if we want peace and progress, we’re going to have to accept its absence. You never really thought it would be otherwise, did you?