Give us Barabbas

‘No more inquests and no more prosecutions with respect to Troubles-related deaths.’ John Larkin

The North’s Attorney General has plunged into the turbulent waters of the area's conflict strewn past where dangerous currents, their sensors activated by the sound of a fresh idea punctuating stale environs, still threaten to pull a career under. In acting as he did John Larkin has shown more fortitude than most, in particular the political class which has been dipping its toe into the muck for the best part of 15 years, and pulling it back out even faster. The political sentinels have demonstrated with unremitting consistency how not to turn at every turning point, in those memorable words, never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

In arguing that a line should be drawn under the past Larkin now finds himself somewhat isolated, discursively at least whatever else may be going on in the undergrowth. The political parties see some advantage in collectively distancing themselves from his comments, while the victims’ lobby, for whom any embracive outcome of substance is not within the gift of society, feels as unfulfilled as ever. For those left to grieve, loss is a vacuum that simply cannot be filled.

The victims' lobby has emotive reason to find the proposal anathema, but the political class should desist from the displays of mock horror it has acted out for constituency consumption. It has long known that the system does not work yet, in a rare show of unity, has clamoured to ensure it stays in place while paying lip service to the need for change.  Barra McGrory, albeit less bluntly than Larkin, previously tried to steer the debate in a similar direction so there is no room for the vacuous claim that it came out of left field. As Director of Public Prosecutions he is not an insignificant figure. Upton Sinclair’s biting quip easily sums up the politicians: ‘it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.’

Larkin has simply proposed placing a STOP signal in front of a vehicle already stalled, calling for ‘a halt to all probes into offences carried out before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998’ on the largely functional grounds that they are subject to the law of diminishing returns. 

No imprimatur from a Harvard law professor is needed in order for this conclusion to pass muster. The countless victims still demanding redress illustrate the current deficiency better than anything else.

John Larkin has made the right call in terms of prosecutions. Not because his proposal approaches any notion of perfect justice: far from it. He proposes not the ideal outcome but the optimum one in terms of what is achievable within the constrained range of possibilities presently available in the North. There is no shortage of irony in a lawyer having to remind politicians of Otto Von Bismark's timeless pearl that often 'politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.'

Although I have a dog in the fight due to the Boston College affair, which alone is sufficient to make me thoroughly indisposed towards prosecutions, my views on a prosecutorial role in respect of the past were formed prior to the Boston archive becoming a hotly fought over issue. Reflecting on the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday I commented that:
Although there are enough who think for genuine reasons that prosecutions should result from the Saville findings I am not convinced there is any point in journeying down that path. A crucially damning verdict would be a simple, concise, unequivocal declaration from the British government that the act was mass murder, that the Widgery Report was a whitewash and that the British government behaviour after the event made it, at the very least, an accomplice after the fact, responsible for covering up and perverting the course of justice. That would be much more beneficial than some woolly verdict of unlawful killing or manslaughter which is probably the only outcome from court proceedings.

Nothing since has emerged that would lead to a change of heart. Prosecutions have been a one way process, a weapon of legitimation employed by the British state against non state combatants designed to absolve it, implicate its opponents and distance itself from ‘lethal allies.

The continued insistence on prosecutions from whatever quarter is made in the sure knowledge of the seriously limiting effect it will impose on wider truth recovery. It raises suspicions that much of it is deliberately designed to inhibit the emergence of anything other than a controlled circumscribed truth; to so refine and rarify truth through legalese that its value to society will be severely diminished. Politicians wielding the stick of retribution are prone to poke the eye of revelation, so that society in general and victims in particular, will see less rather than more.

John Larkin has outlined a method that if stringent in both its application and oversight procedure, has the potential to unlock more truth than is likely to see the light of day under any other set of proposals. As a rule uncomfortable truth will generally come out in spite of us rather than because of us. Larkin in opting to spite us, has charted a potential course towards that moment best described by psychiatrist, Dr Philip McGarry, ‘when the denials, the half-truths and the lies will no longer, in essence, cut the mustard.’

Still they shout 'No, not him! Give us Barabbas.'


  1. Mackers,
    What a very apt title ' Give us Barabbas, because that's precisely what is being played out here.
    I don't think John Larkin happened by this idea all by himself.
    Unfortunately he was picked to float it and is now taking the stick for it.
    There is a probably a general consensus in the higher echelons to dim it all down.
    IRA accountability was all the powers that be were ever interested in.
    Now the extent of what the Brits were about is becoming more and more evident, someone, somewhere wants it all put to bed.

  2. Nuala,

    the Brits long planned a trade off I feel. Saville left it looking the most likely option.

    Is Larkin doing a solo run? I don't know. But many people share your view on it that the whole thing is the usual peace process choreography.

    Imagine the position of political strength Irish society would be in to tackle the British state on the extent of its its role here during the conflict had SF not been such pathological liars. The Brits got a by ball to a great extent because the people criticising them had secret graves full of skeletons and endlessly lied about everything to cover it up.

  3. Great Post AM
    I am not sure who what when or were prompted John Larkin to decide to make one of the most sensible statements since the Good Friday agreement was signed. Of course he is completely right because the victims will never get justice as long as it’s left to the politicians to decide what to do. Let people not forget that an amnesty was given to republican and loyalist prisoners, republican and loyalist arms and what about the disappeared whom some might never get to bury loved ones but also because of an amnesty no prosecutions will be taken against anyone involved , So what’s new in John Larkin’s statement other than he is bringing back into focus what has already happened victims who will never see justice because of an amnesty given to others involved in the conflict so why not now make an amnesty for everyone . The Liars have been handed the truth but as always are scurrying around looking for someone to help them agree that the truth is wrong
    How about a Boston College type scheme were all the participants will be immune from prosecution if they give up what they contributed to the conflict, to me this is the only way the truth will be told

  4. Boyne Rover,
    How many truths are there? What some perceive to be true others have difficulty believing.
    That's the problem, the truth is now a commodity and it is open to manipulation and scepticism.
    We are only have to refer back to what happened Mary Mc Ardle under the uspices of a so called law.
    Mary Mc Ardle was perfectly entitled to that position but a law was quite unfairly pushed forward to dictate otherwise.
    Also not all Republicans have been granted an amnesty. Some remain under threats from British Justice inspite of years of appealing to Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly to intervene.

    There is only one person who can be held account for the disappeared and that's the inventor.
    All others with the exception of the full blown agents were going to down a road they were persuaded was the only one available.

  5. ‘it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.’
    I'm still wiping the tears of laughter from my eyes after reading that quote! Brilliant! I saw McGuinness on tv saying that, if that was Larkin's view of things he told to the Haass Borefest, then he should have kept them to himself!? Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't SF announce publicly what there proposals to Haass were? I also saw Dennis Bradley on "The View" (laughing, like I was) saying: "the people who say they don't want an amnesty, do, and the people calling for the truth, won't tell it themselves"! You really couldn't make this shit up!

  6. Fionnula,

    There is only one truth. People can argue until the cow's come home over events and how things panned out.

    But at the end of the day, the truth is simply the truth.

    Years ago on The Blanket web site on the top right hand side Anthony & others would put up quotes by Frank Zappa etc..The one day I seen this proverb about the truth (best explanation I've read..)

    All truth passes through three stages.

    First, it is ridiculed.

    Second, it is violently opposed.

    Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

    Arthur Schopenhauer

    German philosopher (1788 - 1860)

  7. Those in the higher Echelon floated it to Larkin, Because they had a preview of the Panorama Program about the MRF , Too many British Crown forces being highlighted for their liking , so they see at as "Lets cut the umbilical cord once and for all" , we don't need all this heat about our elite.

    Its not just about the MRF , Its about British Paratroopers slaughtering innocent unarmed people, Its about the SAS doing exactly the same, Its about the Colusion between the British Army , RUC, and Loyalist murder gangs.

    These things can't just be erased at the whim of some top MI5 geek in the dark halls of whitehall.

    David cameron stated to Mrs Finucane , If I were to give you a full public enquiry , there are people in these corridors who would not allow it. Proves who is running government when a prime minister makes a statement like that, although within a private conversation . The families of the shankill bombing still want more blood out of a stone, Yet they know the names of the Bombers , have received an apology. The nationalists need answers as well, but they don't know the names of those who commited murder against there loved ones. They have a right to know.

  8. itsjustmacker
    Yes, I totally agree with you. I saw a group called "Innocent Victims United" holding out a banner in Stormont and a few of the group were on tv speaking. One of them was Jayne Olorunda whose father was killed by a bomb on a train (near Dunmurry, I think) in 1980. There's no getting away from the fact that her father suffered a horrible death. Kevin "Dee" Delaney was also killed in that explosion (he was planting it) and "Jokey" Flynn was left scarred for life by it (he was also planting a bomb). The reason I'm mentioning that case is the same as you are saying about the Shankill bomb. In both cases, the people who carried out the bombings were killed and another left badly injured, when I pointed this out to a friend, he said: "maybe they want justice from the people who "sent" them out to do it". As far as I know, from studying Republicanism, no-one was ever "sent" out to do anything, they could have refused to do it. I know people will argue that the people in charge of the Belfast, Derry or any other brigade are ultimately responsible for what their volunteers did, but, (definitely no pun intended here) they did not hold a gun to Vol's heads and make them do it. As you pointed out, there are still C/N/R families left without knowing why their loved ones were killed, by whom, and why it was covered up by the Branch and all the way up to the top of the British government.

  9. Frankie,
    In an ideal world there is only one truth but Ireland never seemed to fit with the ideal.

    Something that has always puzzled me, is how injustices all over the world have came under someone's scrutiny at sometime, all with the exception of here.

    For years, decades even I have watched people like John Pilger shine a spotlight into the darkest places and expose some horrendous happenings.
    East Timor was one such atrocity and many others proceeded and followed, yet nothing ever touches on here.

    John Stalker nearly had his entire life destroyed when he ventured to investigate the 'shoot to kill'
    Therefore, as endearing as Arthur Schopenhauer sounds.
    I don't think philosophical reasoning of this kind could ever find it's way here.

  10. Michael Mansfield suggested a tribunal and giving absolute amnesty for those who agreed to tell the whole truth but with the proviso if it transpired that someone did not tell the whole truth as previously claimed then their amnesty would be withdrawn and they could or would face due process after that. Sounds fair enough to me.

  11. Fionnuala,

    I don't know who John Pilger is. I never heard of him before. But I have heard of John Stalker and how he was set up because he stood innocently beside some Manchester drug baron or other.

    What happened when John Stalker got very close to the truth over the shoot to kill question? I'd hazzard a guess and say he was violently opposed. Schopenhauer said that's exactly what happens (2nd it is violently opposed).

    Take the 1981 hunger strike. When the truth started to surface. First, it was ridiculed. Secondly, it was violently opposed. Today, it is accepted as being self-evident.

    On day the truth will out Fionnuala. Unfortunatly it may not come out in either of our life times. The fustrating part is everyone has a fair idea what went on. And in a lot of case's the same faces were pissing into the same pot at the same time.

  12. Frankie,
    Which truth will come from who? You hear something that is reportedly true and then you hear a chorus saying it is not!
    People telling the truth are called liars and liars are claiming to be telling the truth.
    Is this what John Larkin is saying, please, please no more truth.
    People deserve to know what happened to their loved ones but sadly it does not appear to be happening.

    John Pilger is an Australian journalist who became famous as a war correspondent in Vietnam.
    He has always been a strong critic of British, American and Australian foreign policy.

    John Stalker was asked by Jack Hermon to find the truth but then suddenly the truth was not the truth the RUC wanted.
    Stalker was initially threatened he had his children's details slipped into his pocket at a police function.
    When that didn't work he was taken off the inquiry and accused of fraud, guilty by association. The report which was completed by Sampson was never published. Sadly another truth buried.

  13. Fionnuala,
    Is this what John Larkin is saying, please, please no more truth.

    John Larkin said prosecutions pre 1998 are like a broken pencil (pointless). Take politics out of the equation and look at how much it costs to investigate a murder committed 30yrs ago. Then add into the cost at least 40,000 GBP each year to keep the person in prison.

    For example, every unsolved murder was solved and the people found guilty were all jailed for 2yrs. How much is that going to cost the ordinary tax payer? And exactly how many people have been jailed for pre 1998 murders compared to the investigations? And for those unfortunate to be jailed for 2yrs, what about their families? Maybe they are the only bread winner in the house hold, looking after an elderly parent, single parent etc..What about the impact someone going to jail for 2yrs will have on innocent families? Basically the maths for investigating pre 1998 unsolved murders doesn't add up (in my head at least).

    People deserve to know what happened to their loved ones but sadly it does not appear to be happening.

    Unfortunatly not everyone is going to find out who killed their loved one/s or why. As cold as that sounds thats one of the harsh facts people are going to have to come to terms with. Take for example the murderer is dead. What questions are you going to ask?

    John Larkin also reckons the best chance of uncover the truth lies with historians , academics, writers. The first time I heard that idea floated, was here by AM a few months back. I have since found out he floated the idea on a Radio Ulster phone-in in 2005.

    I am convinced that what ever is lying in the vaults of a Boston College and a dossier the NIPOA have is more explosive than any spectacular the IRA have ever exploded (it would be a good idea to get the NIPOA dossier with the other two narratives in Boston<-- someone make sure the key dissapears this time). Then there would be three narratives in the same place. Simply put uncovering the truth becomes easier. The drip feeding of the recent past isn't doing anything positive. All the narratives would be better in the same place.

    It's not just Stalker/Sampson/Stevens report that's being violently oppossed. The Brimingham Six, Guilford Four, the families of the victims (who are English/British) etc are being violently opposed in finding the truth. But one day the truth will out.

    Look at how the truth about Bloody Sunday came out and think about what Schopenhauer said. Everyone knew it was murder. For years the British Gov held to the view the IRA opened fire etc. And ridiculed the families. When the truth began to emerge the families very oppossed left, right & centre until call me Dave was forced to stand at the depatch box and admit to the world what everyone knew from day 1. It was murder.

    Schopenhauer, isn't far of the mark in explaining 'truth'. Sometimes it takes longer to come out than people want. Sometimes you don't always get the answer you wanted to hear.

    The IRA talked about Loyalist death squads being financed, trained etc by MI5 etc..They got laughed at. When the families asked for the truth they were opposed. When the truth about the death squad started to emerge so to did stories about British Agents within the IRA. Sometimes you don't always get the result you wanted. But the three stages of getting to the truth are the same (JMO)

  14. As for American or Austrailian foregin policy in Vietnam I know next to nothing about (apart from the odd headline, youtube videos, Oliver Stone etc..). But I have watched British foreign policy in Ireland first hand. I know my father lost his job at Michelin's in Mallusk as a direct result of British foreign policy. I have never experienced the brutality of British foreign policy Fionnuala. I have read about it and listened to people like yourself who have first hand accounts about the brutality & human rights abuses in Ireland. What am I going to learn by reading John Pilger accounts about what Americans got up to in "Nam? They shot more innocent people, prolonged a war, locked men & women up for years (some dying in prison) because they had a different political belief or other. The numbers killed, abused maybe different that's all. Without reading much (if anything) about "Nam, I bet there are comparassions in British policy in Ireland and American/Austrailian in "Nam.

  15. A 15min video about a side effect not only the British but other goverments foreign policies. The first 9mins cover WW 1 and 2. Then goes from 1960's South East Asia until today-ish. And not surprisingly the only conflict left out was ...