Releasing these killers is a sordid, but necessary, part of the peace process

Share

It is understandable that the release from the Maze prison yesterday of Michael Stone, the loyalist gunman who opened fire and killed three at a funeral in 1988, leaves many feeling a sense of revulsion. Stone's moment of triumph seemed to call into question everything that the peace process stands for. In effect: if somebody commits vile murder, he need only wait for a peace process to come along, whereupon he can be enveloped in congratulatory hugs by his friends and supporters - who appear to believe that killing innocent people is an acceptable way to behave. The relatives of those he killed, meanwhile, are doomed to live unhappily ever after.

It is understandable that the release from the Maze prison yesterday of Michael Stone, the loyalist gunman who opened fire and killed three at a funeral in 1988, leaves many feeling a sense of revulsion. Stone's moment of triumph seemed to call into question everything that the peace process stands for. In effect: if somebody commits vile murder, he need only wait for a peace process to come along, whereupon he can be enveloped in congratulatory hugs by his friends and supporters - who appear to believe that killing innocent people is an acceptable way to behave. The relatives of those he killed, meanwhile, are doomed to live unhappily ever after.

Although one of Stone's friends yesterday declared that he and other loyalist prisoners "continue to support the present peace process", the reality is that we have heard few regrets from Stone about his previous record. Instead, it seems as though the judicial slate can simply be wiped clean. Stone, a former commander of the bloodthirsty Ulster Freedom Fighters, is by no means an isolated case. Some of those already released are the lowest of the low; as are some in this week's final batch of releases from the Maze, with its famous H-blocks, when it closes on Friday. They include men like Torrens Knight, who killed three innocent Catholics in a pub in the notorious Greysteel massacre.

At least those killings can somehow be seen as "historical". That does not apply to the case of Bernard McGinn, convicted of killing the last British soldier to die in Northern Ireland, Stephen Restorick. The 23-year-old Restorick was shot in cold blood at a checkpoint in South Armagh in 1997, even while a peace deal was already in the offing; McGinn was convicted after the Good Friday peace agreement, and yet is now eligible for release.

But all of these sordid releases - and they are sordid, we should not dodge that fact - only remind us just how tortuous the peace process is. It seems to be an offence against natural justice that Stone, Knight, McGinn and others like them are allowed to walk free, as though nothing untoward had happened. In human terms, not least for the relatives, it is an extraordinarily bitter pill to swallow.

None the less, it is also in the larger interest of peace and justice for all. Only through such painful steps does it become possible to contemplate long-term peace.

The leniency of recent years must, however, be matched by a toughness from now on. Blind-eye justice, where the need for peace in the community means that evil men are allowed back on to the streets, served a useful purpose. Now, however, it is equally importantthat this necessary but sleazy form of justice be left behind. Any political violence, including the continued epidemic of kneecapping, must be harshly punished. The violent antics at Drumcree of Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair (another loyalist prisoner released from the Maze) themselves appear to justify his re-arrest. There is no more room for the use of kid gloves.

The Good Friday agreement allowed abnormality in search of a new normality. Now, however, the IRA has shown itself ready to take the gun out of politics; so, too, have Protestant groups formerly associated with terrorism. In other words, there are no political excuses left. For the first time, crimes can be treated as crimes. These releases must be a prelude to something new for Ulster: fearlessly apolitical justice.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Manager / New Product Manager

£33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company mission is to be th...

Recruitment Genius: Software Tester

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Software Tester is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Developer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The Company sells mobile video advertising sol...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have a vacancy within our ra...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

A smear test could, quite literally, save your life. It saved mine

Emma Duke
Children who fled the violence in the Syrian city of Aleppo play at a refugee camp in Jabaa, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley  

A population bigger than London's has been displaced in Syria, so why has the Government only accepted 90 refugees?

David Hanson
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project