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
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A pack of seagulls squabble over discarded food left on the beach at St Ives on July 28, 2015  

Number of urban seagulls in Britain nearly quadruples: Hide food and avoid chicks to stay in gulls’ good books

Tom Bawden
 

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men