An amnesty for political murders will not heal Ireland’s divisions. But less headline-grabbing measures could

 

Share

Peter Hain’s suggestion of an end to Ireland’s Troubles-related prosecutions, reflecting an idea that has emerged from Belfast legal circles, is an attempt to cut the Gordian knot which has bedevilled the peace process. The notion of solving the long-standing issue with a single stroke is superficially appealing to many. But it has caused profound hurt to many bereaved families and helped to poison Belfast politics, which is currently in a surly state.

The peace process has thrown up many controversial issues, but few that have continued to inflict so much sharp pain and upset. Indeed, the question has been hotly debated for two full decades without a consensus emerging. Belfast politicians appear on television on a weekly basis arguing about it, very often in a singularly bad-tempered tone with much accusatory finger-pointing and point-scoring. This has caused many to despair of advances being made.

One of the numerous difficulties is that many of the scores of victim groups and individual activists are divided along political lines and pursue different aims. Some insist on full-scale independent public inquiries, some want prosecutions of those who killed their loved ones, others would settle for apologies. A surprising number say they have been consoled simply by receiving information about deaths. Others opt simply to grieve in silence; more treatment for deep-seated trauma should be made available for them. All cry out for justice, but there is no single definition of what this might look like.

While many are concerned purely with the personal and the humanitarian, other elements have political agendas. Some project that the IRA was virtually the only source of violence, though extreme Protestants killed more than a thousand people, too. Some emphasise security-force misbehaviour, others downplay it.

The prospects for dealing with such a tangled issue with a single bold stroke are not good. The idea springs partly from despair that nothing else has worked. And yet, after years of debate with no breakthrough, some progress has been made in recent months. Inter-party talks on a range of issues failed to reach agreement in December, yet unexpectedly there was movement on the question of dealing with the past.

The talks came up with a complex architecture which included a historical-investigations unit, an archive of conflict-related material, a reconciliation-monitoring group and an avenue for securing information on individual cases. This intricate structure lacked the apparent simplicity of the Hain proposal, yet it represented a practical approach. It was endorsed by nationalist parties, including Sinn Fein, but to general disappointment was rejected by Unionist parties. Nonetheless, agreement on that issue appeared so tantalisingly close that a fresh attempt is bound to be made in the future – not immediately, however, since elections and the unsettling marching season are in the offing.

Still, Martin McGuinness’s presence at the Queen’s banquet at Windsor Castle tonight is a sign progress can be made in even the longest-running dispute. There will always be a yawning gulf between Britain and Sinn Fein, but the sight of British royalty and Irish republicanism breaking bread together is a reminder that headway can be made in the most intractable conflicts.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup