Northern Ireland

Politicians react to NI attorney general's end Troubles prosecutions call

John Larkin
Image caption John Larkin has called for an end to prosecutions for Trouble-related killings that took place prior to 1998

Politicians and public figures have been reacting to a call by Northern Ireland's attorney general for an end to prosecutions for Troubles-related killings.

John Larkin said there should be no further police investigations, inquests or inquiries into any Trouble-related killings that took place before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Larkin said his proposal was not a formal amnesty, but was a logical consequence of the Agreement.

Prime Minister David Cameron

"I do think it's important to allow Richard Haass to do his work about parades, about flags and about dealing with the past.

"Clearly the dealing with the past part is the most difficult of the three and the most difficult to unlock.

"The second point I would make is that 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 are able to, be able to bring cases.

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

Enda Kenny, Irish prime minister

"The question of the past is difficult, because it is dealing with victims on all sides of the atrocities.

"I don't think it would be helpful of me to comment on the personal submission made by the attorney general in Northern Ireland, who is in statutory office, and I have to respect his views in this context.

"I think it would be difficult for families on either side of the dark time in Northern Ireland if you were to follow, for instance, that advice and put in place what the attorney general recommended."

Jeffrey Donaldson, Democratic Unionist Party MP

"I think what the attorney general has proposed is an amnesty.

"There are 3,000 unsolved murders in Northern Ireland and those families are entitled to the right to pursue justice.

"This process must be victim-centred. It must be the victims who decide how they wish to proceed, not politicians, not law officers.

"In a democratic society, it is the victims who have the right to determine how they should move forward."

Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin president

"This issue is much bigger than simply the issue of prosecutions.

"Whatever mechanisms are agreed in the future they need to be victim-centred. The views of victims must be central to any effort to deal with the legacy of the past. Their voices must be heard and respected and all victims must be treated on the basis of equality.

"As it stands there is no single view from victims and survivors and it is unlikely that there will be one in the future. Some families seek truth, others seek a judicial process."

Mike Nesbitt, Ulster Unionist Party leader

"I am deeply suspicious about the timing of this. The timing is strange given that there is an active debate going on centred on dealing with the past.

"I am shocked at the lack of consultation particularly with victims, never mind the executive. I can't believe he didn't understand the hurt and pain he would cause amongst victims.

"There is no doubt that we have to find a way of dealing with the past to allow society to move on, but it cannot disregard victims and survivors. Neither can it disregard the rule of law."

Alban Maginness, Social Democratic and Labour Party

"For the attorney general to suggest that there should be an end to investigations, inquests, inquiries or prosecutions for Troubles-related killings whether caused by paramilitaries, the police or the Army is a dramatic policy change and a cause of real concern for the SDLP.

"The SDLP's primary concern is for victims and survivors of state and paramilitary violence. They are entitled to justice irrespective of the lapse of time. It is very important to consider such a dramatic policy change from the point of view of those who have suffered."

Stewart Dickson, Alliance Party

"These comments again raise serious concerns over the role of the attorney general in Northern Ireland. His role is to provide impartial advice to the OFMDFM (Office of first and deputy first minister) and the executive, but his comments today are clearly meant to forward his own agenda. I have to wonder who asked him to interfere in such a delicate issue.

"The Alliance Party believes that we do need to find a comprehensive way to deal with the past, and that simply relying on the justice system alone, as is currently the case, is not providing the justice, truth and reconciliation that victims deserve, and our community needs."

Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice

"I am appalled and angry that the chief law officer, who should be the guardian of the rule of law, is advocating immunity for terrorists.

"Murder is murder, is murder. It has no sell-by date. It didn't have for the Nazis, who have still been pursued. Northern Ireland's criminals must equally never be relieved of the threat of the long arm of the law catching up with them."

Basil McCrea, NI21 leader

"NI21 firmly believes that victims deserve all the individual support the state can offer - it is a moral imperative. The proposals made by the attorney general will be painful for many, but victims also deserve honesty from their politicians.

"If, as a society, we are forced to relive every act of barbarism, if we continue to report every atrocity as if it happened yesterday, if we continue to open old wounds, to pick at the scabs of our past, we will never escape our past nor heal our community."

Matt Baggott, Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable

"We welcome the debate into how we deal with the past and will study carefully what the attorney general has said. There is no doubt his views will also form part of the deliberations of Dr Richard Haass.

"It is well documented that the cost of policing the past has a massive impact on how we deal with the present and the future. Whilst we are committed to meeting our current legislative responsibilities, dealing with legacy issues continues to place significant pressure on our organisation and financial resources.

"Any new legislation to deal with issues of the past must be a matter for politicians to resolve."

Peter Hain, former Northern Ireland secretary of state

"I think the attorney general has said what needed to be said - this issue needs to be addressed.

"You can't keep on seeking to prosecute going decades back for offences which may not be possible to pursue, which cost an awful lot of effort and money to try and track down.

"Victims need support and understanding in other ways."

Terry Spence, Police Federation for Northern Ireland

"We would have some concerns about what the attorney general has said, but I do think that John Larkin has made a somewhat genuine attempt to move this process forward and it is worthy of some consideration.

"But the Police Federation for Northern Ireland policy on these matters is very clear as it currently stands - that there should be no amnesty for either those previously engaged in terrorism or indeed members of the security forces."

Dame Nuala O'Loan, former NI Police Ombudsman

"To abandon prosecutions, inquests or inquiries into killings that took place before the Good Friday Agreement would constitute a wholesale violation of the UK's legal obligations under domestic and international law.

"It would cause untold distress to bereaved families and seriously undermine prospects for building confidence in the administration of justice, in particular in cases where there is evidence of potential collusion between elements in the security services and paramilitaries."

Eamon Gilmore, Republic of Ireland minister for foreign affairs

"When you are talking about what happened in the past, I think our first priority has got to be the victims and their families.

"There is already an agreed way for dealing with pre-1998 cases. I have not yet heard a convincing argument for changing that.

"I think the wider issue for dealing with the past, I think we have to do that in the context of Haass (talks) and I think that is the place where this needs to be discussed, where we get an overall framework for dealing with issues of the past but one which puts the victims and their families and those who are traumatised - and there were many of them - at the centre of what needs to be done."

Trevor Ringland, NI Conservatives

"I don't think that John Larkin's idea should be dismissed completely, but it can't be isolated from other issues around the past and also the future of Northern Ireland.

"We can't simply 'draw a line' under these crimes, as he suggests, at a time when many of the groups which were linked to violence or apologised for it, are actively celebrating some of the darkest, most murderous acts of the Troubles. That would send out a dangerous message."

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

"Human rights require that victims and survivors of the conflict are at the centre of any process to deal with the past. The commission is therefore deeply concerned that the attorney general has made a public statement without any apparent engagement with those most affected.

"In dealing with the past, there can be no deviation from the rule of law. At a time when sensitive political discussions led by Dr Haass are ongoing, the attorney general's action risks undermining the human rights of the people of Northern Ireland."

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