The anger of the victim lobby is understandable, not so that of the two major parties. While Alliance and the SDLP have at least been consistent in their demands and have exhibited authentic non-partisan concerns, the same cannot be said of the DUP and Sinn Fein, both of whom, according to former SDLP leader Mark Durkan, bought into an amnesty proposal in 2005. Sinn Fein stood accused of only having exercised a U-Turn after weeks of nationalist pressure which saw the SDLP accuse:
Gerry Adams of forming an "alliance of sleaze" with Tony Blair allowing the government to bury the truth about state-sanctioned murder.
Moreover, Martin McGuinness stated in 2008 that:
I told Tony Blair and Jonathan Powell that what was required was for the British government to come out with its hands up and admit the truth of Bloody Sunday. In those circumstances there would have been no need for an inquiry.
So, not only were prosecutions not on the agenda, inquiries were to be shown the door as well.
Sixteen years on and the issue continues to to remain as contentious as ever, spurring divisiveness and an intense jockeying for position. Having resiled from their mutual acquiescence in the 2005 amnesty suggestion, Sinn Fein and the DUP are now going at it as if it were a matter of principle. The two most unprincipled parties on the island battling over principle conjures up the image of two bald men fighting over a comb.
The DUP primarily wants to protect the legitimacy of the war waged by the state and its actors and seeks prosecutions for IRA and INLA operations. Its support for the mass killer Soldier F left no room for doubt as to its skewed sense of justice. Sinn Fein, having a better sense of what is good for the optics, has chosen to play it in somewhat less partisan fashion. Nevertheless, it sees in prosecutions a weapon to beat the British state over the head with. Nothing wrong with that per se. The British state is good value for a drubbing on the matter. As Michael McDowell said of its motivation: "It is not about closure; it is all about preventing disclosure" Still, it leaves Sinn Fein playing with a hierarchy of victims hand while pretending otherwise.
Despite all its howling about the proposed statute of limitations, Sam McBride made the point that “Sinn Fein is no doubt secretly delighted.” The reasoning is best summed up by Newton Emerson in his observation that "the party will pocket an amnesty for republicans while playing to its base with a one-eyed pretence at opposition."
In order to have a go at the Brits, Sinn Fein for political opportunism has generated a discourse which effectively delegitimises the IRA campaign that some of its former leaders directed. It now claims to want anybody against whom there is evidence – IRA volunteers not excepted – to be tried by the British state in its no jury Diplock Courts.
The party is discursively and publicly lending its support to the prosecution of former IRA volunteers. Yet, rather than supporting appearance in the dock of those who in some instances may have been sent out by Sinn Fein leaders acting in their IRA capacity, the ethical stand to take would be for those same leaders to stand in the dock with the former volunteers they claim to want prosecuted. People would at least take them seriously about bringing closure. But like the Tories, the real objective is preventing disclosure.
Does Sinn Fein call on those with information that might help lead to the prosecutions of former IRA members to pass it on to the police? When Gerry Adams was arrested in 2014 on suspicion of killing Jean McConville, the party held public rallies opposing his arrest and labelled people informers, none of whom had passed information to the police.
It seems little has changed. Barra McGrory when head of the Public Prosecution Service made it clear that the people with "most to fear from the Stakeknife investigation" were former IRA personnel. At a recent court hearing in Belfast, Counsel for Jon Boutcher, the head of Operation Kenova, expressed his fears in relation to efforts being made to hamper his investigation.
Based on Mr Boutcher’s concerns, counsel claimed there is a real risk to that prosecutorial process. The court heard terrorist organisations are still actively trying to prevent the prosecution of their members, as well as identifying those who may assist with the ongoing inquiries ... He also makes it crystal clear that there is ongoing subversive activity in respect of those potential witnesses - threats, intimidation, monitoring and gathering of information are all identified by Mr Boutcher.
Some dead are more equal than others.
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