John Larkin’s Priceless Quote

Ed Moloney with an observation on the proposal for dealing with the past put forward by Northern Attorney General, John Larkin. It initially featured on The Broken Elbow on 20 November 2013.

Comments by the Northern Ireland Attorney General, John Larkin urging an end to all Troubles-era prosecutions in Northern Ireland as well as inquests and inquiries has blown up a predictable storm in the usual circles.

The details can be read here in a balanced BBC report which, interestingly, quotes PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggot using words which clearly signal his approval of Larkin’s remarks. Did Larkin run his ideas past the PSNI before going public? And if the PSNI want this, will it happen? Interesting questions.

John Larkin, NI's Attorney General, recommending end to Troubles-era prosecutions
John Larkin, NI’s Attorney General, recommending end to Troubles-era prosecutions

Anyway, there will be plenty of time for analysis and examination of the AG’s proposal in the coming days. For the time being, I just want to highlight one wonderful quote from his interview with, I believe, The Belfast Telegraph. Here it is:
What I am saying is take the lawyers out of it. I think lawyers are very good at solving practical problems in the here and now, but lawyers aren’t good at historical research.
The people who should be getting history right are historians, so in terms of recent history, the people who are making the greatest contribution are often journalists.


  1. The people who should be getting history right are historians, so in terms of recent history, the people who are making the greatest contribution are often journalists.

    Anthony, you said something very similar a few months back about historians, writers & academics are the best chance to uncovering the truth..

    Maybe John Larkin reads the TPQ too.

  2. Don't know what game larkin is playing-maybe he just needed a headline for vanitys sake-Cameron
    did not sound to pleased with him at Westminster but saying that he could agree to this next week-what I do know is that the british army and RUC are not covered under the GFA-and there are to many stories being made public-somebody is getting scared-

    Larkin also says-" the greatest contribution are often Journalists "

    Depends on who one reads-not all of them tell the same story about the same incident-
    A Unionist brit loving Journalist
    and a United Ireland loving Journalist-[ they do exist ]-will hardly come to the same conclusions-they would be worse than Politicians-who thought they would ever hear that-

  3. Knowing the predictability of the British government and the various political parties including Sinn Fein, I would not take as gospel anything that is said in response to John Larkins words of encouragement. Larkin is employed by these people, he does not come off with statements like this without it being part of that carefully choreographed ritual of dipping peoples toes in the water as to what is actually happening. I Remember the pledges of No internal settlement, no decomissioning and the creation of a 32 county democratic socialist republic. I can still remember John Majors, it would make my stomach sick statement when he was questioned about whether his government was negotiating with the IRA. I remember David Ervines statement about members of the UVF leadership knowing the colour of the wallpaper and curtains on certain unionist politicians houses and how some of those same church going law abiding respectable pillars of the community advised the UVF not to call a ceasefire at a time when the conflict was raging.

    All politicians are liars and all politicians speak out of both sides of their mouths and all politicians are untrustworthy.

    An attempt to bury the injustices and truth of the past is in process its the winners who write the history and it looks like the Irish people and its history is being once again written by the British.

  4. Michaelhenry,

    if I can manage to wade my way through the mush, a question is should republicans face prosecution for their involvement in the war? If the answer is no then there is no reason why the state forces should be treated any differently. All that would do is reinforce a hierarchy of victims template. I see no point in prosecutions for any combatant. It achieves so little and prevents so much.

  5. Its amazing when someone in authority in the Wee North speaks the truth everybody goes ape. John Larkin is actually expressing the view held by the majority of people in Ireland and possibly England. What he has done is expose how completely inept the whole Peace Process that Sinn Fein invented really is. The Brits have really suckered them and it is now coming home to roost. What Larkin has done is point out the bleeding obvious why was all this not taken care off during the super discussions that Sinn Fein and the rest took such pride in, that being the Good Friday Agreement. I do feel for all the victims that this statement affects but what about the victims who had to watch convicted people walk out of prison. If it was ok for those victims who seen the killers of there loved ones walk free why not the same values for all victims???

  6. Frankie,

    it was something I suggested on a Radio Ulster programme about March 2005. I suppose I knew something about how it worked.


    my first thought when I heard the statement was that John Larkin has a history of expressing independent ideas. Some dismiss him as a maverick who tends to go on solo runs because of it. Others seem to think it is choreographed. If it is the latter, and taking on board what you say, there is still a lot of heavy lifting to be done to move it. I remain to be persuaded that it will fly.

    If prosecutions and inquests remain a useful device for keeping truth recovery at bay, then a lot of vested interests will oppose Larkin.

    Boyne Rover,

    a lot of sense in what you say. I think a possibility is that SF thought they were safe in allowing the prosecutions element to remain in place. They thought it was something that only would embarrass the Brits and that the yet to be revealed papers would not do them much harm. They never wanted truth recovery. What use is it to SF to have the truth of say Gerry Adams' role on the IRA's army council which approved so many operations that led to deaths? What Larkin is suggesting could pose problems for them.

    For truth recovery to work it has to be brought out as much if not more so in spite of us rather than because of us.

  7. A lot of things are being slipped into the media through Unknown sources (British).

    RUC/Special Branch have a lot to worry about.

    MRF (Military Reaction Force) license to kill. Just one day after John Larkin spoke about putting the past in the past and leaving it there, I would say without a doubt that he knew about the Panorama program about ex MRF soldiers admitting to freehand murder in nationalists areas.

    What is the next thing to be leaked , we all know about glenane.

    MRF Undercover soldiers 'killed unarmed civilians in Belfast'

  8. It'sjust,

    I am wondering the same thing (a long the same lines)..

    One week it's open season on republicans, then state forces, then loyalists.

    At least John Larkin has 'ran' with Anthony's idea and said "Let's draw a line in the sand because we are going around in circles". At least it's opened a debate on how to deal with the past.

    Maybe it'sjust this will help stop the drip feeding of what happened and for once and all the truth comes out.

  9. What happens (or would happen) if John Larkins proposal was set in stone to the Boston College tapes?

    There would be no fear of prosecution. Would it mean they could be released to the public or only to historians?

  10. Panorama: Britain's Secret Terror Force, BBC One, Thursday 21 November at 21:00 GMT and then available in the UK on the BBC i I Player.

    You can get it from here at 21:00 this evening..

    BBC1 Panorama MRF soldiers speak of murdering innocent nationalists.

  11. Frankie,

    interesting question. I presume you mean the ones they managed to grab?


  12. I agree with this quote from Larkin "What I am saying is take the lawyers out of it. I think lawyers are very good at solving practical problems in the here and now, but lawyers aren’t good at historical research.

    The lawyers certainly do not do it for free, the longer the cases the more complex the £ monies required from the tax payer, its another recession proof elite vocation.

    160 million to police existing cases before 1998. There certainly needs something to be done in relation to cost of the enquiries.

    The lawyers certainly do not want a line drawn under paramilitary murders from 1998. Madden & Finucaine would be were it is without that.

    The second quote, I agree with also, "The people who should be getting history right are historians, so in terms of recent history, the people who are making the greatest contribution are often journalists".

    But how subjective can it really be. Historians from all hue and cry, draw differing conclusions from historial documents all the time.

    In saying that, journalists in western society reflect the western system of goverance and reflect their investigations along the line of editorial Public relations for the paper and the corporations that fund via advertising, lobbyists, financiers, governmental officials.

    I think his main gripe is the cost of the lawyers, But he simply could not say it for obvious reasons.

  13. james,

    the upshot of that would seem to be not to read any journalists as they ony produce state guff and have no independence to do anything else.

  14. That's a funny song. Imagine if enough people bought it....It could be the christmas n°1.

    As for the (partial) release of the BC tapes. A good starting point could the transcripts already with some drawer in Knock RUC/PSNI hq.

    I firmly believe (from what I've read about the BC tapes), it could be the genesis of a truth process. I don't know if families will get justice but at least some might find out the truth if the powers that be run with 'your' idea Anthony.

    A few weeks back on the 'longkesh inside out site' , I questioned a former UVF volunteer what he meant by Innocent Victims Are Not Always Genuine . At least in my head his (primo's) definition of victim makes sense. Sooner or later the word victim is going to have to defined.

  15. AM said "the upshot of that would seem to be not to read any journalists as they only produce state guff and have no independence to do anything else".

    Read by all means as it will give you the pulse of the editorial favour, but read with a beady eye, misinformation is guaranteed in plenty, especially from the mainstream media.

    Independent professional journalists are few and far between, with no state interference, A little like yourself. I think it is great to have independent journalistic opinion, the problem is were do they get the wage/salary to accompany it.

    It often leads to isolation and accusation, from the mainstream media which you were on the receiving end not to long ago, by the Irish news.

    I watched the panaroma programme last night. I was impressed by Denis Bradley quote on dealing with the past

    "Their are people telling lies all the time about this issue, you get the people who want the truth, but are not willing to tell the truth themselves, then and you get people calling from amnesty, but don't want to give amnesty to others". I hope that is right recalling from memory, if not please feel free to correct, but I got the message.

    Pretty much summed were we are about the whole stagnant issue. I cannot see any reasonable formula on how dealing with the past will ever be accomadated to suit all from victim, victims to persecutors.

    The whole British legal system based on criminal and civil law legislation is far to rigid to deal with the potential loop wholes, that is why Cameron said it would be "rather dangerous".

    Bearing in mind the sole purpose of Whitehall, and Stormount is to maintain the status quo.

    I also believe historians like yourself looking to investage the past will come up with barrier after barrier, like the boston tapes.

    In my opinion the boston tapes were, are, and would be a fantastic approach to probe into the past from key sources, I just cant see the people in power who would be adversely effected allow it to happen.

    I hope I am wrong. I live in hope.