NORTHERN Ireland’s attorney general has called for an end to criminal prosecutions for Troubles-related murders.
John Larkin QC said that he favoured ruling out further inquests, police investigations or inquiries into specific killings that took place before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Mr Larkin, who is the chief legal adviser to the Stormont Executive for civil and criminal matters, asserted that his proposals were a logical consequence of the Agreement and did not amount to an amnesty.
“More than 15 years have passed since the Belfast agreement, there have been very few prosecutions, and every competent criminal lawyer will tell you the prospects of conviction diminish, perhaps exponentially, with each passing year, so we are in a position now where I think we have to take stock,” he said.
“It strikes me that the time has come to think about putting a line, set at Good Friday 1998, with respect to prosecutions, inquests and other inquiries.”
The proposals were outlined in a submission to Former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass, who is seeking to obtain political agreement concerning the unresolved issues during the peace process and the legacy of Ireland’s past.
“Sometimes the fact of an amnesty can be that that which was a crime ceases to be a crime. That wouldn’t be the position here, it would simply be that no criminal proceedings would be possible with respect to those offences,” he said.
“So there is an evenness. At present we have very good tools, subject to the point I’ve made about the passage of time, for critiquing the state, but we don’t have them for bringing to account those who have committed offences against the state.”
If Mr Larkin’s proposals were to be adopted, there would not only be an end to criminal prosecutions and inquests into the killings but also the abolition of the Historical Enquiries Team, which was the body introduced to review killings during the Troubles.
The controversial suggestions have been met with concern and criticism from various political parties.
Social Democratic and Labour party assembly member Alban Maginness criticised Mr Larkin’s proposal.
“For the attorney general to suggest that there should be an end to investigations, inquests, inquiries or prosecutions for Troubles-related killings whether caused by paramilitaries, the police or the army is a dramatic policy change and a cause of real concern for the SDLP,” he said.
“For Mr Larkin to say that his proposal does not constitute an amnesty is wrong. Mr Larkin does recognise that many will interpret it as one – that is because that is what it will effectively be. This would amount to a blanket amnesty and the SDLP do not believe that this would be acceptable.
“The international view, also held by the United Nations is that general amnesty is not the correct way of proceeding in a post-conflict situation.
“The SDLP’s primary concern is for victims and survivors of state and paramilitary violence. They are entitled to justice irrespective of the lapse of time. It is very important to consider such a dramatic policy change from the point of view of those who have suffered.”
Mr Maginness also focused on the poor timing of the proposals.
“As the parties negotiate how to deal with our past, the SDLP have been very clear that the interests of victims and survivors must have primacy,” he said.
“This proposal by the attorney general would appear to be contrary to those interests.
“The SDLP will examine the attorney general’s proposal in detail and make a formal response in due course.”
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said the attorney general had failed to consult the Stormont Executive about his suggestions before declaring them publicly.
Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International referred to Mr Larkin’s proposals as “an utter betrayal of victims’ fundamental right to access justice”.
However, Former Northern Ireland secretary of state, Peter Hain, described Mr Larkin’s proposals as “common sense” and stated through Twitter that there should be “no pre-Good Friday conflict-related prosecutions”.
Over 3,500 people were killed during thirty years of conflict in Northern Ireland.