Call for end to ‘Troubles’ prosecutions in N. Ireland

Call for end to ‘Troubles’ prosecutions in N. Ireland
Twenty-nine people were killed in the Omagh bombing in 1998.

BELFAST - Northern Ireland's chief legal adviser called Wednesday for an end to prosecutions stemming from the province's decades of sectarian violence, sparking outrage from victims' relatives on both sides.

Attorney General John Larkin, who advises the devolved administration in Belfast, said he also favoured ruling out further inquests and other state investigations into crimes committed during the so-called Troubles.

Stephen Gault, whose father Samuel was killed by the nationalist paramilitary group the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1987, said the idea was "totally disgusting".

British Prime Minister David Cameron also warned it would be "dangerous" to block police and prosecutors from doing their job.

"The government has no plans to legislate for an amnesty for crimes that were committed during the Troubles," he said.

Larkin argued that a line should be drawn under offences perpetrated before the signing of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, which largely brought an end to the 30 years of bloodshed between Protestants and Catholics.

The proposal would effectively mean an amnesty for paramilitaries, the police and the British army who contributed to the deaths of more than 3,500 people during the period.

"More than 15 years have passed since the Belfast Agreement," Larkin told the BBC.

"There have been very few prosecutions, and every competent criminal lawyer will tell you the prospects of conviction diminish, perhaps exponentially, with each passing year, so we are in a position now where I think we have to take stock.

"The time has come to think about putting a line, set at Good Friday 1998, with respect to prosecutions, inquests and other inquiries."

Former US diplomat Richard Haass is trying to broker a cross-community agreement on how best to manage the legacy of Northern Ireland's past, and Cameron said this was the best forum to consider Larkin's proposal.

"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're able to, be able to bring cases," the prime minister said.

"I think it's rather dangerous to think that you can put some sort of block on that.

"But of course, we're all interested in ways in which people can reconcile and come to terms with the bloody past so that they can build a viable future and a shared future for Northern Ireland," he said.

Samuel Gault was among 12 people killed by the IRA in the 1987 Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen, an attack for which no one has ever been convicted.

"It's totally, totally disgusting," his son Stephen said of Larkin's proposals.

"My father's murder and countless thousands of others are just being brushed under the carpet to move things forward."

Mickey McKinney, whose brother William was killed when British soldiers fired on a civil rights march in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday, branded the idea "ridiculous".

"What they (the soldiers) did that day, they have to be held accountable for," he said.

After a 12-year inquiry into the 1972 killings, British police launched a murder probe that could result in charges against British army soldiers.

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