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

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

Citifocus Ltd: ACA - Financial Reporting

£Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Chartered accountant (ACA or CPA), must be...

Langley James : Senior Infrastructure Engineer; VMWare, Windows; Disley; £40k

£40000 per annum + benefits: Langley James : Senior Infrastructure Engineer; V...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Australian cricketer Phil Hughes has died aged 25  

Phillip Hughes: A sensational man, both on and off the pitch

Angus Fraser
Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party  

If people voted for policies, the Green Party would win the next election

Lee Williams
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?