A loyalist who had a prominent role in the 1994 ceasefire has warned against “Nuremberg-style trials” examining Northern Ireland’s past.
William ‘Plum’ Smith, a former prisoner who chaired the ceasefire news conference, said there was a choice to make — “closure” or “opening up a can of worms”.
“We are not going to allow our community to be the scapegoat for the conflict,” the former PUP chairman said.
His comments come just days before the October 2 deadline set by Secretary of State Shaun Woodward for contributions to a consultation on the Eames/Bradley recommendations for dealing with the past.
Those proposals include a Legacy Commission with Information-Recovery and Investigation Units.
The latter would take over the work of the Historical Enquiries Team — and it is that process of continuing investigations and arrests that is angering loyalists.
“How can you become involved in a truth and reconciliation process on one hand with arrests on the other hand?” Smith, a former Red Hand Commando prisoner, asked.
“You can’t have both at the same time. They contradict each other,” he argued.
“The continuing arrest of people — where does it stop? People involved in a conflict/|war did things that they wouldn’t normally do.”
But he said that war was now over.
“What is the point in handing in your guns and in going away if these people are still going to hound you?
“You asked us to go away and we went away. People are backtracking here.”
The Shankill loyalist said he believed “people are ready as an organisation to answer” — meaning to address the questions of the past — “but not as individuals”.
“Where are we going here?” he added.
He said it was time to end investigations, to “draw the line for everybody”, loyalist, republican and security forces.
“You can’t have the past buried for republicans and not for policemen or soldiers or whoever,” Mr Smith said.
Another senior loyalist who is part of the paramilitary leaderships told this newspaper the continuing investigations and arrests were “destabilising loyalism”.
“It’s causing grief all right,” he said. “People are asking: ‘who’s going to be next? What have we got out of it?’”
That was a reference to the peace process and what loyalists have achieved.
* Source: The Belfast Telegraph.